Unidas helps young women get involved in community, explore issues and opportunities

By Brooke Goldstein
El Independiente

Mari Galup, Unidas program coordinator, leads a discussion about local organizations, the girls researched. (Photo by Christina Duran)
Mari Galup, Unidas program coordinator, leads a discussion about local organizations that the girls researched. (Photo by Christina Duran)

Sasha Enrique, 16, wanted more than a standard high school experience.

She wanted to volunteer and work with charitable organizations, but didn’t know what was right for her. She surfed the web and came across the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona’s Unidas program. She filled out her personal information and wrote down her interests and thoughts on what it means to be a woman.

A couple weeks later she was accepted into the program, and her life changed forever.  

“Unidas helped me discover great volunteer opportunities,” Enrique says. “ Getting involved with my community has allowed me become a more aware and dedicated student.”

The program helps girls like Enrique between the ages of 14 and 18 gain hands-on experience in community service, leadership and social justice to improve the quality of life for women in Southern Arizona. The girls develop listening, speaking and networking skills over the course of a semester. They also learn how to write grants and at the end of the program the participants award $5,000 to a local organization that supports the social change most important to them.

Unidas has helped Enrique understand larger issues of concern to young women. “But it also allowed me to build networking, active listening, and speaking skills, all of which are useful for the workforce,” Enrique says.

The Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona founded the program 15 years ago. It is currently funded by the Lovell Foundation. More than 200 girls have gone through the program, and many have continued to stay involved by working on the Women’s Foundation board.  

Mari Galup, Unidas program coordinator, encourages the young women to share their newly-learned skills with their peers outside.

“In our meetings we develop fundraising skills on a particular focus and work every meeting toward developing how to reach those goals,” Galup says.

The program allowed Enrique to meet Tucson women working in powerful positions or decision-making roles. The weekly meetings introduced different speakers who illustrated what leadership in the workplace looks like.  

Mari Galup, Unidas program coordinator, leads a discussion about local organizations, the girls researched.
Mari Galup, Unidas program coordinator, center, leads a discussion. (Photo by Christina Duran)

A primary focus of the Unidas program is to present girls with volunteer opportunities. Enrique was interested in social and environmental issues and ended up working with Planned Parenthood and Child and Family Resources.

Alice Bates, 17, is developing a comprehensive sex education curriculum that addresses diversity among young women and girls. She says Unidas gave her the tools to help address the lack of sex education in schools. 

“I learned not only about the issues that affect women and girls but how to be a voice of change in my community,” Bates says.

Naomi Hernandez, 17, dreamed of becoming a doctor but never thought she would have the opportunity to even apply to college. Since joining the program, she has been accepted to several universities, including a UA medical training program.

At the end of the Unidas training, the participants decide which specific causes they would like to address and improve. Enrique’s group, for example, donated to Camp Born This Way, a program for transgender and gender nonconforming children. Past grants include El Grupo Youth Cycling and Esperanza Dance Project.

“The money provided has had great effects on these organizations,” Galup says. “It has allowed them to grow and share within the community.”

Helping girls gain self-confidence is one of the primary goals of the program, according to Galup. She sees the Unidas members becoming the future leaders and hopes the program grows and becomes more visible.

Enrique says fellow Unidas participants taught her there is no minimum age when it comes to justice and empowerment.

“It is all thanks to Unidas, without exaggeration, that I have become an active participant in my community, confident in being a young woman and a fearless feminist,” Enrique says.

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