Girls’ rally focuses on civic engagement

ROCHESTER — Latina girls who attend the upcoming "¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina!" rally will gain skills to help them become future community leaders, organizers say.

Civic engagement is the theme of this year’s rally, which will be held on April 1. The event aims to boost self-esteem and help young Latinas confront issues they face in their daily lives and learn life skills they can use in college or careers.

Those leadership skills have already been employed by the rally’s teen committee, which has been involved in the event planning and is ready to make its mark on this year’s rally, noted Jeanette Colby, a Latinas Unidas committee member working with the group of five girls.

"They came up with ideas for the workshops and were very vocal about how to relate to the youth who will take part in this year’s event," she said. "The teen committee has been working on creating a video that will show their experiences with community service and what it means to each of them. Each one of the girls has something special to contribute."

The girls possess an array of talents from dance, poetry and writing, Colby said. In the months leading up to the rally, they have learned to brainstorm, collaborate and work as a team toward the common goal of contributing to the event’s success, Colby said.

"My job is to help them navigate their ideas into something solid, so they can see how each step we make moves us toward a goal," she said. "I want them to feel good about what they accomplish and to support each other as a team. I hope this is something they’ll continue throughout their lives, in both college and their careers."

When the Latinas Unidas’ rally planning team turned to its teen committee in developing this year’s theme of civic engagement, the girls did not initially identify with it, explained Annette Ramos, who heads up the planning team.

"Their view of civic engagement is volunteerism and community service," said Ramos. "So, that’s what our overreaching theme is."

The teen committee and the Latinas Unidas leadership then identified ways that girls can participate in civic engagement through activism, outreach and taking part in groups in their schools, recreation centers and churches, she added.

For the rally, the committees developed activities around the theme for elementary, middle-school and high-school grades, Ramos said. The youngest group will develop an inspirational chant and bomba dance about what it means to be a strong Latina, while the middle-school group will create public-service announcements encouraging volunteerism.

For older girls, the teen committee specifically asked for Latinas Unidas to use its network to invite a panel of successful women to the event, Ramos said. The girls want to individually interact with and find out how those women give back to their communities and connect with local organizations, she explained.

Instilling the ideal of service to one’s community is most appropriate, Ramos said, as the April 1 ¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina!" event celebrates 15 years of serving Latina girls in the community. Ramos likened the anniversary to a quinceañero, which celebrates a girl’s 15th birthday and is a significant milestone in the Latino culture. This birthday marks when a girl becomes a woman and often features a large celebration, she said.

"This whole view of they’re coming of age, we’re coming of age," Ramos said of the area’s Latina girls and Latinas Unidas’ rally. "So, what’s your civic responsibility? How do you engage?"

In addition to celebrating a milestone, the rally also is moving back to the University of Rochester campus, where it was held several years ago. Activities will be held in the university’s Susan B. Anthony Center, since the rally also will mark the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights in New York state, Ramos noted. The event also will include the presentation of the Heart Award to a Latina who has played a significant role in the annual event as a mentor, volunteer, sponsor or advocate for Latina girls. Award nominations were accepted until March 17.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To register or for more information, visit http://latinasunidas.org/susl/rally-2017.

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