Stories of triumph, hope, and perseverance filled the room at a Feb. 28 event at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the University’s Club Amigas/Mentoring Latinas.

“This is inspirational because there are people out there who tell Latinas ‘don’t apply to this job or school because you are not good enough,’” said mentor Briana Alejandro, a student at the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS).

For 15 years, the program has helped Bronx Latinas overcome obstacles and excel in high school and college while maintaining their cultural identity.  AT&T, which has provided $450,000 to the Mentoring Latinas over the past nine years, was recognized as the program’s largest funder. 

“We firmly believe that the influence of mentor can significantly improve young person’s potential for success,” said Ed Bergstraesser, director of external affairs at AT&T. “The event is a celebration of the 350 young women who have come through this program, and [whom]we believe are stronger [because]of it,” he said.

Empowerment Through Mentorship

Mentoring Latinas was founded in 2003 as part of the GSS’s Institute for Women and Girls. The program pairs a Latina college student from Fordham with middle and high school Latinas from local schools in the Bronx— the New York City borough with the largest population of Hispanics.

Despite their challenges, Sandy Turner, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Women and Girls, said the mentees had high hopes for their future. During the ceremony, she shared that many of them wanted to be doctors, teachers, architects, and social workers when they grow up. A video made by Fordham College at Lincoln Center senior Roberta Munoz, the head mentor for the high school division of the program, served as a testament to Mentoring Latinas’ impact.

“It has empowered young Latinas to believe in themselves and achieve goals that they wouldn’t have tried otherwise,” she said. “It teaches them that Latinas are more than what the media portrays them as.”

Personal Stories of Achievement

Eileen Torres, executive director of BronxWorks, and Marlene Cintron, GSE ’77, president of The Bronx Overall Economic Development Council, were among the distinguished local leaders who shared personal stories about their struggles as adolescents and how they went on to prove naysayers wrong.

“Their roles are usually not dominated by people of color,” said mentee Mariely Gomez, a sophomore at Belmont Preparatory High School. “Now I can see my future a little bit brighter.”

Torres recalled her Puerto Rican parents working hard “to make ends meet.” She had to fill out college enrollment forms on her own since no one in her family graduated from college, she said.

She encouraged the mentees to lean on their mentors during tough times. “Once you accomplish a goal, come back, reach out, and give someone who might be in similar circumstances a chance,” she said.

Cintron, the ceremony’s second speaker, described what it was like to grow up in the South Bronx to immigrant parents who stressed the importance of education. Though she went on to hold prominent positions in finance, including serving as a financial analyst at Merrill Lynch and Citibank, as a teen, she wrestled with self-doubt and a high school counselor who didn’t think she’d amount to anything.

Today, she fosters economic development in the Bronx for the Office of the Bronx Borough President.

Advice From the Heart

She advised the young Latinas, whom she described as as “shining, beautiful promising faces [of]our future,” to recognize that they have the power to make their dreams a reality.

“The future is in your hands, and I can’t wait to see what you are going to do with it,” she said.

Belmont Preparatory High School student Belinda Reyes, who dreams of becoming a chef or a fashion designer, said she felt motivated to work harder after the celebration.

“I felt excited because I always thought the things I wanted to do were impossible,” she said.

The speakers’ words of encouragement also resonated with mentor Alondria Agurcia, a senior studying finance at the Gabelli School of Business.

“I could see the girls tearing up when I looked around,” she said. “Even though I’m graduating this year, this reminds me to keep pushing forward.”