Latina Mentoring Initiative (LMI)

Connecting and empowering young Latinas with Latina mentors

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Latina Mentoring Initiative (LMI)

About LMI

About LMI

On October 21, 2021, Latina Equal Pay Day, Governor Hochul announced the launch of the Latina Mentoring Initiative to support young Latinas and begin leveling the playing field. The New York State Mentoring Program, in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Women’s Affairs, and Latina government, community, and corporate leaders, is rolling out programming across the state.

The Latina Mentoring Initiative focuses on:

  • Providing positive, caring adult mentors to support and empower.
  • Connecting young Latinas to internships, scholarship opportunities, and professional development.
  • Empowering future leaders by building soft skills and confidence, and nurturing aspirations.
  • Encouraging and modeling self-advocacy.
  • Celebrating heritage while creating community where success looks like our youth.

Latina Leaders from across the state of New York have helped to build the Latina Mentoring Initiative. From the private and public sector, we are grateful to the inspirational women who have contributed their experience and connections and look forward to launching more programs during Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15th to October 15th, 2022.


Committee Leaders

Committee Leaders

Tayrin Tapia

Tayrin Tapia, LMI Committee Member, Buffalo
Director of Operations at Capital Management

Contributing to LMI means giving back, motivating and inspiring young girls so that they feel empowered to do whatever they put their minds to. To show them through my own experience that it CAN be done and that they can succeed even farther than I did.

I believe we are at a pivotal time in our lives where it’s important now more than ever for young girls of color to see more relatable faces in spaces that make them feel heard, understood and seen.

Maria Margarita Cruz

Maria Margarita Cruz, LMI Committee Member, Buffalo
Director of Treatment and Prevention Adherence at Evergreen Health

Mentoring is so important to me because I have learned that the success to life is building relationships. Relationships that guide, empower, connect and support are essential. Mentoring saved me as I was a teenager. I had individuals in my corner that helped me see things from different perspectives and connected me to valuable resources.

There is power in numbers. We, Latinas, are undervalued and overlooked. It has taken us a long journey to reach positions that others never even imagined us in, why not help pave the way for others? Let them see that we are valuable and powerful beyond measure.

Lucy Candelario

Lucy A. Candelario, LMI Committee Member, Buffalo
Executive Director, The Belle Center

Contributing to the LMI means nurturing a new generation of strong Latina Leaders by providing prevention programs, by emphasizing enrichment activities and by finding a Latina’s interest and passion. It also means initiating direct communication to aspire education, increase self-development and provide direct support to our young Latinas.

Mentoring is important because it provides positive youth development, it extends opportunities to explore and experience programs that our Latinas might otherwise not experience.

Olga El Sehamy

Olga El Sehamy, LMI Committee Member, Long Island
Assistant Deputy County Executive for Human Services, Suffolk County

Of all the things you can do in your life, helping to positively shape and impact someone else’s life is one of the best feelings. We all have a gift, and, as a mentor, you might even discover yours.

Young Latinas in this country need positive reminders that keep them connected to our culture while at the same time evolving and taking their space in American society. We need to mentor other Latinas so they know that there are ways to avoid or resolve roadblocks in their lives, that they can accomplish what they work for, to not be afraid to ask for advice or help, and to envision themselves in a positive and successful future.

Vanessa Lockel

Vanessa Lockel, LMI Committee Member, Long Island
Executive Director, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

The Latina Mentoring Initiative is an opportunity to give back. I consider this a chance to ensure that the younger generation has all the opportunities possible for them to achieve their highest aspirations. The perspective of our young Latinas is so important to the positive growth of our organizations and to society, as a whole. I want to do my part to make sure the personal journeys of these young women are seamless and successful!

Mentoring ensures that young people have role models and cheerleaders who are there for them throughout their personal and professional careers. These young women need to witness firsthand the bonds that can be created through the practice of mentoring.

Martha Maffei

Martha Maffei, Social Worker, LMI Committee Member, Long Island
Executive Director, SEPA Mujer Inc.

Hispanics are the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the U.S but unfortunately, their educational attainment is lower compared to other racial/ethnic groups. So, mentoring our youth and starting from an early age is critical. It creates positive youth development. Mentoring is a relationship with a unique connection. There needs to be a strong foundation of trust. And a person’s ethnic identity plays an important role in building that relationship. This is why, it is important that Latina professionals reach out to the new generations to build those relationships and be role models. Having someone that understands their culture and looks like them, inspires mentees. It shows them that they can be a professional just like their mentor.

Fleriser Bello

Fleriser Bello, LMI Committee Member, New York City
Founder and CEO of Fleriser Bello, Inc. & Bellas Fashionistas, Inc.

Contributing to LMI means to continue our mission to elevate, encourage, and motivate our young Latinas and women to reach their full potential, now on a broader scale across the State of New York. As Founder of Bellas Fashionistas, Inc., the goal is to change the narrative of the Latina community by continuing our movement to elevate and amplify the voice of the Latina women through the various pillars (FashionistasTV, Bellas Educational, Bellas Bridging Opportunities, and Bellas Business Corner.) The desire is to provide access to opportunities while fostering mentoring programs that will help in providing a positive change in their lives through economic empowerment, leadership development, and social programs.

Samantha Callaghan

Samantha Callaghan, LMI Committee Member, New York City
Director of Adoption and Kinship Support Programs, LMSW - New Alternatives for Children, Inc.

Mentoring is so important because it gives youth the opportunity to see their full potential. Connecting to mentors allows youth to learn healthier coping mechanisms, increase self-esteem, earn better grades, gain improved social and emotional development, and most importantly guide youth to making better decisions.

As someone who has mentored youth for a very long time, I see the value in how impactful mentoring can be. Not only do you get the opportunity to be a positive role model, but you learn a lot about yourself along the way.

As a Latina, it is so important to be involved right now to support Latino youth that historically have not had these opportunities. Increasing visibility in these spaces, gives youth the confidence to ask for help and seek guidance when needed. During my career path, I realized how critical it was to connect to mentors of color who helped guide my professional development and success.

Erika Ana Flores

Erika Flores, MPA, LMI Committee Member, New York City
Senior Program Associate, Cause Strategy Partners

My father was an immigrant from Chile, and my mother had to stop her education very young to tend to the needs of her family. Navigating the education system with no firsthand experience made it difficult for them to support my goals after high school. Having a mentor who understood my cultural background and could help fill the gaps that my parents did their best too, was crucial for me to become the first in my family to graduate from college. Mentors are so pivotal for young people's development, especially when kids grow up in a culture and area that is vastly different from that of their parents.

Think about all the things you needed help processing and navigating as a kid. Who would you be today if all those needs were met be someone who was in your corner mentoring you? Now think about how you can create the experience you needed for someone else!

Yomaris Peña

Dr. Yomaris Peña, MD, LMI Committee Member, New York City
Chief Medical Officer, SOMOS COMMUNITY CARE
CEO/Medical Director, YPP New Modern Medicine PLLC

Ayudar a dejar un legado en jóvenes que quizás sin nuestra ayuda llegarán a sus metas, más nosotras como grupo empoderadoras de mujeres les ayudaremos a trazar una ruta hacia su futuro de manera más segura, fácil y consciente a través de ser sus mentoras.

Helping leave a legacy of young Latinas leaders who will achieve their goals but we are paving the way so it is easier, more accessible and conscious to get to their final goals of career success.

I realize the importance of empowering our Latino communities. NYC is a place where all races come together, work together, dream together. It is our duty as responsible, empowered women to create and keep a network of future Leaders, so we start now, we lead by example thru the Latina Mentoring Program.

Fanny Villarreal

Fanny Villarreal, JD, LMI Committee Member, Syracuse
YWCA Executive Director, Syracuse & Onondaga County

When we support the growth and empowerment of girls through mentorship, we raise the quality of life for all. This is because when women lead, they not only lead industries, but they also lead in their communities, the fight for their children, and they get together to give voice to issues that are important for them. This is why mentorship is important.

As a Latina, I believe it is important to be involved in mentorship because we will encourage our young Latina girls’ ambition and empower their confidence. We can help them to set goals and work toward achieving them. I know our Latino girls are smart, strong, and Bold. I see that while they participate in our Girls Inc at YWCA program, they just need YOU and me. We are the role models; we are their inspiration and as mentors we will change the life of these Latina girls.

Bea Gonzalez

Bethaida "Bea" Gonzalez, LMI Committee Member, Syracuse
Former Special Assistant to the Chancellor at Syracuse University / Vice President for Community Engagement

Contributing to LMI means that I am paying it forward! As I benefited from my mentors, I need to ensure others have the same opportunity.

Our young Latinas must believe that their dreams and goals are within reach. As a first-generation college graduate, I feel I have a responsibility to share my experiences as a way to support them.

Rita Paniagua

Rita Paniagua, LMI Committee Member, Syracuse
Syracuse City Councilor At-Large

Caring and helping a young Latina reach their full potential, their goals and aspirations is something I want to be a part of. It is important for me to give back a little of what I was blessed with when I was growing up. The Latina Mentoring Initiative gives me the opportunity to be a positive role model instilling confidence for our Latinas to thrive. There is nothing more enriching than guiding our young generations to be their best self!

Brizzett Aguilar

Brizzett Aguilar, LMI Committee Member, NYC
Portfolio Manager, New York Power Authority

Being part of the Latina Mentoring Initiative is something that makes me proud; an organization that helps Latinas foster their abilities by collaborating with someone who shares an understanding of their struggles, anxieties, hopes, goals, and aspirations for the future. There have been many moments when I felt alone, with no minority representation to show me how to navigate. While these were growth experiences, it was difficult to learn how to adapt on my own in unfamiliar environments that were so different from my upbringing and educational path.

My hope is that this committee will give young Latina’s confidence and the moments to shine; accessing opportunities that are not currently accessible and provide them with the tools to thrive. To be the best possible version of themselves and empower them through guidance, communication and sharing of our vast experiences. You only need one person to give you permission to be great.


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