I've blogged about LLI before, the non-profit I have worked for since 2012. LLI empowers Latinas to become stronger leaders through leadership development sessions, one-on-one mentoring, and a six-month community service project. Through the process of completing the program, the participants become a family, a strong network of support to one another, along with their mentors and board members.
Recently, some life changes led to my deciding to step down as executive director. It was not an easy choice. The program was barely more than a website and idea when I was hired. I got to shape it into one of the most impacting programs for Latinas that I have ever seen. It is something I wish I would have had when I was first starting my career, and many other Latinas have shared that sentiment.
I was routinely in awe of the drive and tenacity of the participants who invested their time and money to develop themselves. Employers weren't forcing them to be there; they didn't get to stop their other commitments to focus on this; they didn't get college credit for it. They applied out of an inner-motivation to be better leaders. This in itself was impressive because so many applicants were already super involved and had accomplished so much. Their hunger for more, and their desire to give back kept me enthralled and in love with my job.
For four years Latina Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines was my baby. The women who graduated from the program felt like my kids going off into the world to change it and make it better for their sisters. For as cheesy as that sounds, it is also very accurate. I can recall every graduate and feel a connection to them that I can't imagine will ever go away. Seeing them continue to make amazing accomplishments fills me with a pride that is almost unparalleled. What sticks with me the most is seeing the women bond in a way that is unique to the environment of trust I helped build.
As I move on to other adventures, I am enthusiastically elated that it will be in the hands of one of the women who invested in herself two years ago as part of LLI's Class of 2015. Vivian applied in hopes of finding direction, community and a place that valued and strengthened her talents. During her time in the program I saw her confidence escalate, and her passion grow. She developed a stronger voice of conviction and advocacy that is becoming a lifelong part of who she is. Almost immediately after graduating from the program she got together with her fellow graduates and helped launch the LLI alumni association, designed to offer continued leadership development opportunities, networking and continue the sisterhood developed during the program. Shortly thereafter she joined the board of directors and brought a new perspective to the table. A year later she was voted the president of the board and led with respect, integrity and unrelenting enthusiasm and dedication to the program and the women it serves.
When I alerted the board of my plans to leave my position, I secretly hoped that Vivian would apply. She is the embodiment of what the program is designed to do. We want our graduates to push themselves, try things they have never done, take risks when opportunities come their way and feel confident in their support systems to take them on. Vivian is doing that. She had never been a board president, but that didn't stop her from running. She hadn't been an executive director, but her zealousness for giving back to a program that meant so much to her was greater then her doubt or fear.
Her earnestness to learn and devotion to her LLI sisters shines every time she talks about LLI, and it is genuine in a way that makes people want to know more about LLI. That is what the program needs as it moves towards growth and financial stability. When Vivian shares her story with potential funders, participants, mentors and community supporters it will be hard for them not to become enraptured by the positive energy she emits when talking about LLI. This assures me that I am leaving it in the right hands and can face my next steps confident that my baby is still getting the same love and attention I have been pouring out these last four years.