By Debbie Nelson, DNA Creative Communications
Photography By Amy Randall Photography
I am proud to call Adela Mendoza my friend. She is a remarkable woman who is making a difference in our community by opening many doors for others. Mendoza is an international professional skilled at building strategic collaborative partnerships, facilitating cross-cultural relationships, and leading diverse teams and coalitions. She is a Liberty Fellow and an Aspen Institute Ideas Scholar serving as the executive director of the Hispanic Alliance of South Carolina. You can find Adela at almost any leadership table in Greenville where the discussion is focused on our emerging Hispanic population.
The Hispanic Alliance is an exciting social enterprise created to serve as a vehicle for communication and collaboration between the Hispanic/Latino and the broader community. It convenes the largest network of agencies and individuals in the Upstate to work collaboratively to understand and serve the complex needs of our growing Hispanic population and ensure its inclusion and success in a growing global economy.
The Alliance does much of its work through its cross-sector strategic partnerships and community teams focused on key priority areas: education, financial stability, health, and access to legal services. These teams are the pillars of the organization. Within their priority area, each team identifies the gaps between needs and resources, avoids duplication of services, and builds collective capacity to serve the Hispanic community.
The Education Team, chaired by Julio Hernandez, the associate director for Hispanic Outreach at Clemson University, has more than 80 active team members aligning collective strategies to build access and opportunity. The goals for this team are increasing the high school graduation rate for Hispanic youth and building collaborations with local higher education institutions to increase Hispanic enrollment and graduation.
An innovative initiative stemming out of this team is the Student DREAMers Alliance (SDA), a leadership accelerator launched in 2016 to empower and magnify a voice from within immigrant student communities. Its mission is to increase awareness of education inequity and advocate for changes in state legislation to achieve equal access to public, post-secondary education for all youth.
SDA was inspired by the Aspen Institute’s and Liberty Fellowship’s approach to fostering enlightened, values-based leadership. The program, funded by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, is an intensive, six-session intervention for a select group of high-achieving Hispanic youth facing barriers to higher education. SDA provides students a space for self-discovery and the resources needed to unleash their potential, develop resilience, and position them for success and leadership.
SDA brings together emerging young leaders with established national influencers and Aspen moderators to deepen students’ understanding of social challenges, broaden their perspective, and explore their role in building a better society for everyone in our state.
The SDA was featured at the Aspen Institute this summer as an innovative model to accelerate access to post-secondary education and diverse leadership in South Carolina. One of the key aspects of the model is its holistic approach to building an infrastructure to connect these students to national DREAMer networks and local exemplary student leaders such as Keny Murillo.
Keny is a senior at Furman University, where he is majoring in biology and serves as the current vice president of the Hispanic Organization of Learning and Awareness (HOLA). He encouraged the SDA students by openly sharing his personal journey. Originally from Honduras, Keny made his journey to the U.S. from Honduras at the age of nine and settled in Durham, N.C. In high school, he was a straight A student earning honors, holding offices in a variety of organizations, and graduating in the top 10 of his class. Unfortunately, even with all of his accolades, Keny was not able to afford college after graduation due to his immigration status.
Nonetheless, Keny didn’t give up on his pursuit of education. At times, Keny held three jobs while attending his local community college to get a step closer to his dream of attending medical school. Keny worked as a medical interpreter at Duke University Medical Center to save money for college while applying for scholarships.
His perseverance paid off, and he was selected as a recipient of a Golden Doors Scholarship, an extremely competitive fund with a pay-it-forward approach to sustainability. Since 2013, Golden Doors has awarded scholarships to 158 exceptional undocumented students with more than 3,500 students applying. Keny received a full ride to Furman.
He maintains an excellent GPA to support his dream of going to medical school. This summer, Keny successfully completed the Medical Education Development (MED) Program at UNC School of Medicine - an intensive program that mimics the first semester of Medical school. Keny will graduate in December and is involved in the community as an intern with the Hispanic Alliance, as a volunteer interpreter at the Greenville Free Medical Clinic, and as an advocate for DREAMers.
This young man’s story exemplifies the leadership qualities the SDA program is seeking to develop in its program participants. Keny was able to open their eyes to the possibilities and inspire them as they plan for their futures.
It is important to our state’s success to develop these future leaders. The SDA students are true assets, and if given the opportunity, they will build strong, inclusive, and thriving communities. SDA is helping them build a support network to empower them as advocates and help them blossom as leaders in their communities and beyond.
Mendoza has made a national pledge through Liberty Fellowship and the Aspen Institute to build leadership development and self-discovery opportunities to prepare 20 emerging Hispanic leaders in South Carolina to collaborate and lead across cultures and sectors by 2018. She describes SDA as “a bold and intentional step towards developing the next generation of diverse leaders that can take South Carolina into a more prosperous future. This is only the first strategy towards building the exemplary, diverse, and high integrity leadership our country needs.”
Debbie Nelson is the President of DNA Creative Communications, an inspirational marketing and public relations firm for nonprofits. She is the founder of Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums in the Upstate and at the state level she coordinates Together SC’s Knowledge Network. Debbie is also an adjunct professor at Presbyterian College and Clemson University.
For more information on DNA visit www.dnacc.com. Register for “Inspiring Stories: Strengthening Our Collective Voice” October 18th, 8:00–Noon, The Warehouse Theatre www.nonprofitforums.org