the Silicon Valley Latina Coalition came into Tina Oliva’s life at just the right time.
A recent UC San Diego graduate in 2019, Oliva heard about her Engaged Latina Leadership Activist, or ELLA, program and quickly realized that it gave her a sense of belonging that she had missed since college.
âIt was something I didn’t even know I was looking for,â said Oliva, 25. âThe program provided a great community, a community that looked like me, other Latinas who were professional. I had never been a part of anything. I’ve never had Latino models.
The Engaged Latina Leadership Activist program began in 2007 with Rachel Camacho, a higher education activist who was then a board member of the Latina Coalition. She saw young Latinas in the organization looking for opportunities to develop their leadership potential and helped build the program the following year, starting small but growing into a program that has served over 170. Bay Area women aged 19 to 29.
The Latina Coalition is seeking $ 25,000 from Wish Book readers to support scholarships for ELLA applicants. For every $ 1,000 raised, an ELLA candidate could participate in the leadership program for free.
Gabriela Chavez-Lopez was part of that first ELLA cohort in 2008 and was hired earlier this year as the first executive director of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, which has been in existence as a volunteer program since its inception in 1999. As Oliva’s experience, the ELLA program opened doors for her and allowed her to take into account many issues, which she realized was not the case when she was a student at the University of Santa Clara.
Perhaps more importantly, it made her part of a network that continues to support her even today. âI have mentors who still call me to this day and who are strong advocates for me,â she said. “These are relationships that I have developed over 15 years.”
A driving force behind the program from the start has been closing the pay gap for Latinas, said Chavez-Lopez, noting that the ELLA program was created in part to engage professional women in this conversation early in their careers. .
In 2019, California Latinas were paid an average of 42 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and the gap is even more pronounced in Silicon Valley, where the ratio is 33.5 cents for every dollar. The Latina Coalition’s ELLA program strives to instill fellowship, leadership and civic engagement, she said, while also giving them the tools to defend themselves in the workplace.
These skills have proven to be very important to Oliva, who started the ELLA program in early 2020 and quickly saw her world rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. His cohort only met in person twice before stay-at-home orders forced the program to go virtual. She was also fired from her job and lost her apartment.
The ELLA program âwas the only happiness I could sign up with,â she said. âIt was still a very inspiring time. There was so much hope.
She worked on the campaign for Measure E, a property tax measure to support affordable housing, and volunteered with several nonprofit organizations, making connections that led to her being hired by the Mission Asset Fund, where she works in San Jose with undocumented and immigrant communities to provide financial assistance. And, she proudly points out, an ELLA workshop she attended gave her the confidence to negotiate her compensation for more than was originally offered to her.
âI’ve always been so grateful to have a job, I didn’t know you could negotiate your salary,â she said. âNow I always push everyone to negotiate, especially my Latina family members. “
She is also giving back to the Latina Coalition, joining the committee to help the 2021 cohort, which has also met this year virtually. She said it was great to mentor young women like her and help them in their professional development.
For Chavez-Lopez, success stories like Tina Oliva’s are not just personal victories, but show how the ELLA program can benefit the valley as a whole.
âI think we’re multipliers in how we give back,â she said. âThese are women who care about their community who come here to learn how they can continue to help their community. And once you’ve given them the resources, they do it. We pay it in advance.
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
The Wish Book is an annual series of The Mercury News that invites readers to help their neighbors.
Donations will be used to support scholarships for the Engaged Latina Leadership Activists (ELLA) program – which is part of the Latino Coalition of Silicon Valley. For every $ 1,000 raised, one young adult ELLA candidate will be able to participate in leadership training free of charge. Objective: $ 25,000.
HOW TO GIVE
Donate to wishbook.mercurynews.com or mail the coupon.
Read more Wish Book stories, view photos and videos on wishbook.mercurynews.com.