Empowering young women with LOVE

This video celebrates International Women’s Day by highlighting the journey of LOVE founder Claudia Espinosa.

Espinoza: If you come from a different background, you have to assimilate into the new culture. So when you think about the psychological development of an adolescent, all the other things that young people are dealing with, and you add this new process of acculturation and belonging, it can seem really overwhelming. If you don’t have the right support and guidance, a lot can go wrong.

WSN: Claudia Espinoza moved to New York from Cali, Colombia in 2000. Although she had to adapt to a new culture and overcome many obstacles, she persevered.

Espinoza: I am currently at NYU Steinhardt. I am pursuing a doctorate in education and the goal is to graduate this May. What I see myself doing is really using my talents, skills, and passion to make a big impact on the education that young people, but especially young women, get in New York City. And I think there are big gaps and a lot more to do, and so I want to use this degree to do that.

WSN: Back in 2012, while Espinoza was still pursuing her master’s degree in public administration at New York University Wagner, she founded the nonprofit Latinos on the Edge of Excellence, the LOVE Mentoring Program. From volunteering to funding, LOVE has continued to grow over the past 11 years to empower young immigrants, especially young women.

Espinoza: We have developed partnerships with public schools throughout New York. We insist on health education, and the goal is to improve the education that young women receive in high schools, mainly related to mental health, reproductive health, college and career preparation. Therefore, every week we visit our partner schools, conduct hour-long sessions supported by our program coordinators. But the main component is mentoring. We recruit college students who attend our partner schools and help arrange classes.

Suarez: My favorite thing about teaching, especially in school, is how smart the young girls are. I love having these intellectual conversations with them, talking to them about these difficult issues and seeing them really make a difference from my perspective. I think it’s very powerful, and I think I’m also exposed to different cultures, being in our background, you know, where our culture influences how we look at things. It really is such a diverse experience.

WSN: Is there a particular person or incident that inspired you to do this?

Espinoza: I worked for an organization many years ago, and I supported young Latin Americans. They started the program because young Latinos in New York City have the highest rate of suicide attempts. They moved here, maybe without families, without speaking the language. Thinking or feeling, “Can I do this?” can make you think about many things. It can lead you to depression, it can lead to feelings of hopelessness.

WSN: According to new CDC data released on February 13, 2023, nearly three in five American teenage girls felt consistently sad or hopeless in 2021, a nearly 60% increase and the highest rate reported in a decade.

WSN: Who is your role model, or who supported you when you felt completely hopeless?

Espinoza: So I grew up in a good family. I was lucky enough to get a good education at Columbia, so I had, I would say, the pillars that a lot of the young women we support don’t have. And also being part of the same community, I felt that I wanted to do something to change this reality.

WSN: And there are also many students of color, and especially women of color, struggling and facing self-doubt in college who want to be entrepreneurs like you. What advice would you like to give them?

Espinoza: Well, first, be clear about what you want to do, because this is very important. So, with a clear understanding of what that specific goal is, what makes your idea different? One thing I can tell you is that people have 10 seconds of attention, and if you don’t understand what you want, you’re wasting those 10 seconds. So I would say for any woman, you know, from any background, it doesn’t matter – just be clear about what you want. And then when you’ve determined what it is, go get it because you can do it.

Contact Jennifer Wren at [email protected]

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