Rally aims to boost girls’ self-esteem

ROCHESTER — There was barely a dry eye in the house as Glorimar Santiago danced with her father during the finale of last month’s Latinas Unidas’ ¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina! rally.

After 15-year-old Glorimar had shown off her white ball gown as part of the rally’s annual quinceñera dress fashion show, her father, Edwin, came down to dance with her at the front of the auditorium of the Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester.

"There’s nothing more beautiful than a father dancing with his daughter," said Daisy Rivera-Algarín, Latinas Unidas’ former president who served as rally emcee.

About 75 girls registered for the 11th-annual rally, which featured workshops for girls ages 7 to 18 as well as for their parents, added Rivera-Algarín. The theme of this year’s event, which is aimed at improving Hispanic girls’ self-esteem and exposing girls to higher education, was "Entrepreneurship: If You Can Dream It, You Can Achieve It!"

Sessions for the younger girls focused on careers and community involvement and the value of saving money, while older girls heard from businesswomen about their paths to success.

Bertha Coombs, CNBC reporter and the rally’s "madrina," spoke about her experiences during a panel discussion with other local Latina business owners.

When she was the age of some of the girls in the audience, Coombs said that she had considered a law career and wanted to be "Sonia Sotomayor." Coombs said that she knew she couldn’t be president because her family had emigrated from Cuba. Becoming a Supreme Court justice seemed like the next best thing, she added.

When she went to Yale University and worked on some political campaigns, she noticed that the reporters seemed to be having "more fun." As fate would have it, she learned about a potential reporter fellowship, she said. So she wrote her senior thesis on not seeing people like herself on television except when they were being arrested or, if they were being portrayed positively, on early morning news shows with a smaller audience, Coombs added.

The thesis won her the fellowship and she went on to work as a local news reporter. She took a different direction when she moved to Yahoo’s Finance Vision, which then led to stints at CNN’s financial news network and now CNBC.

"Maybe the next chapter is to go into business for myself," she remarked.

Because her career path took so many twists and turns, she told the girls to be open to any and all opportunities. The other panelists — City Councilwoman Jackie Ortiz; Zury Brown, a restaurant owner; and Iveth Reynolds, owner of Trimar Consulting and cochair of the rally’s committee — had similar advice.

"Everything you do is a learning experience," Coombs noted. "Even if it doesn’t work out, it prepares you for something else."

"You have to open your eyes and your relationships," concurred Ortiz. "Talking to friends and colleagues and being open to possibilities is what led me to insurance."

Her friends and colleagues were the ones who supported her decision to leave the corporate world of marketing and open a State Farm office, she added.

"I was very scared," she said. "(But) it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. … So take a chance. Take a risk."

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