The organization is accepting applicants for the class of 2019

Three years after graduating from the Latina Mentoring Academy, Lillian Morales has truly embodied her name, blossoming into a more confident woman, leader and change-maker in the community.

“[I remember] how shy Lily was,” said LMA Chair Lair Marin-Marcum. “She would hardly talk to anybody. … She seems taller now, too.”

“I wouldn't be where I'm at in my career if it wasn't for taking the opportunity to be part of LMA,” said Morales, a human resources director who is now involved with LMA as a program manager.

Founded 10 years ago as part of the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus, LMA serves Latina professionals in Central Ohio. Participants apply for a five-month mentoring program that strengthens their leadership skills, networking ability and relationships with influential people in the city. Online applications are currently being accepted for the next cycle, which begins in June.

“Latinas are the fastest-growing sector of entrepreneurs within the broader Latino community,” LMA Director Lourdes Barroso de Padilla said. “I always like to say that any Latino you meet has a side hustle. … They make something. They build something. They bake something. … There was really nothing to address their needs in the community.”

In addition to pairing participants with mentors, or madrinas (godmothers), LMA provides free programming, resume help from an HR professional, sessions with Dress for Success, networking workshops and more. Prior to graduation, participants must give a public presentation on an idea for a campaign, event or fundraiser addressing a need in the Latino community.

Beyond professional development, the academy serves an important cultural purpose: helping women explore what it means to be a Latina in America.

“When you're in your country, you're Bolivian or Puerto Rican, [etc.],” Barroso de Padilla said. “It's not until you come to America that you are Latina. … It has a different cultural context.”

Women are encouraged to embrace their identity as a positive differentiator instead of viewing themselves as “foreign,” Barroso de Padilla added.

After graduation, women continue building the bonds they've established with both their madrinas and fellow academy participants, or hermanas (sisters).

“We see each other doing our own things in our own fields and we support each other,” Morales said. “If there's an event, you just have to let one of us know and a few of your sisters will go support you.”

“We're in a place that you also don't have to explain yourself,” Barroso de Padilla said. “When we sit around the table together, you can speak Spanglish comfortably. You can debrief your day and people understand what you're talking about.”

LMA recently saw evidence of its impact at its 10th anniversary celebration, where alumni came out, even some from out of state.

“Women were like, ‘This is my mentor! This is my mentee!'” Morales said.

The LMA influence is also seen through current and former mentors who hold prestigious positions in the city. Examples include City Council Legislative Analyst Sandra Lopez, Franklin County Coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz, Board of Education member Ramona Reyes and Columbus Women's Commission member Ronnie Marquez-Posey.

“[We're] trying to elevate our profile as a community and who we are,” Barroso de Padilla said. “As the saying goes, ‘If you're not at the table, you're probably on the menu.' So we are trying to actively get us at the table because people are making decisions about us that are uninformed.”

Whether it's setting up a roundtable with Mayor Andrew Ginther, or exposing women to City Council meetings, LMA strives to network with local government to bring issues affecting the Latino community to the forefront. And this year, the organization received special recognition from City Council for its 10th anniversary.

Both Marin-Marcum and Barroso de Padilla said witnessing women like Morales grow over the past decade is one of the most rewarding aspects of operating LMA.

“Women are at the center of the community,” Barroso de Padilla said. “We are mothers and sisters and the decision-makers in our household. … Culturally, we are not taught to really embrace that.”

“[At LMA] we'll keep telling you that every single day you show up until you believe it,” she continued. “And then you become it because it was always there.”