Latino Leadership Program Graduate Helps Her Community One Family at a Time
Dozens of families who have experienced serious illness or a death in the family have benefited from Blanca Yareth Lopez’s leadership. Blanca, a graduate of the at Wilder, is the driving force behind , a group that organizes fundraising events several times a month in Saint Paul.
On at least two Saturdays a month, community members gather in a room at Plaza Del Sol on Payne Avenue in Saint Paul for music and entertainment, food, and fundraisers such as raffles or an auction. A family – whose hardship has often been highlighted on a video on the group’s Facebook page – receives the proceeds at the end of each event. One recent event raised more than $6,000 for a woman whose husband passed away, Blanca says. “We have this community, it’s so giving,” Blanca says.
Blanca invites DJs, musicians and artists to perform at the events, and she asks local businesses for food and donations. Sonia Ortega, who owns Plaza Del Sol and is involved with Dios Nunca Muere, says Blanca organizes everything and easily handles the pressure and complications of organizing events. And, Sonia says, the community trusts Blanca. “I don’t think she realizes the difference she makes in the community,” Sonia says.
Before the Latino Leadership Program, ‘I Was Really Shy’
Sitting in Plaza del Sol one recent morning, Blanca appears poised and self-assured as she explains Dios Nunca Muere, pausing to greet acquaintances who pass by. But Blanca says she hasn’t always been a confident leader who organizes events and routinely asks business owners for donations. “You’re not going to believe this, but I was really shy,” she says.
Blanca says she gained confidence and discovered and developed leadership skills through the Latino Leadership Program. She first joined the program in 2012 after completing through Saint Paul Public Schools. At the time, Blanca was struggling because she had lost her son in a car crash a couple years before. "I learned to talk to people about my feelings," she says. Blanca found the leadership program so useful that she repeated it the next year. She then completed a train-the-trainer program and served as a co-facilitator of the Latino Leadership Program with Victoria Campoverde, the program’s longtime facilitator. “I love it,” Blanca says. “Every time is different.”
The program is offered yearly in Spanish for about 30 members of the Latinx community in Saint Paul and the East Metro. Through learning activities, small group discussions and exchanges of personal experience, participants learn about leadership styles, teamwork, conflict resolution, public speaking and other skills.
Participants Use Leadership Skills at Work, in the Community and at School
Participants in the Latino Leadership Program have used their skills at work or in their businesses, such as leadership on boards. Others have taken on greater leadership roles in their churches and in the community. Parents use their experience to become more involved in their children’s schools, including participation in the at Saint Paul Public Schools.
Blanca says she finds the Latino Leadership Program useful as a parent in addition to using her skills for Dios Nunca Muere. Through the program, she developed stronger relationships with the teachers at her daughters’ school. “It helps me a lot at my kids’ school,” she says. “I’m more confident now.”