Rally for Latinas touts healthy living

ROCHESTER — The Food Network star Daisy Martínez was so impressed with her experience at this year’s "Soy Única! Soy Latina!" rally at the University of Rochester that she wants to share it with young Latinas in the New York City area where she lives.

Iveth Reynolds, board member with Latinas Unidas, which coordinates the annual Rochester rally for Latina girls ages 7 to 17, said she plans to do just that. Reynolds also is president of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) and plans to use that connection to bring ¡Soy Única! ¡Soy Latina! to girls who live downstate.

"This is amazing," said Martínez on March 20 as she had lunch with parents during the rally. "I’m only sorry my daughter is not here. It’s so empowering for young Latinas. It’s thrilling to be part of this."

One of the most important things the rally offers girls is a sense of validation, Martínez added.

"It’s OK to feel the way they feel," she explained. "For girls in this age range, there’s nothing more important than that. … A girl who feels validated has enough confidence to overcome peer pressure."

The ¡Soy Única! ¡Soy Latina! model is not exclusive to Latinas Unidas, Reynolds explained. Rochester was one of eight cities chosen for the pilot program created by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2002. Each year, the aim is to help young Latinas with issues they face in their daily lives. It remains one of the biggest rallies held in the country, Reynolds noted, and moved around to city elementary and high schools before coming to UR three years ago. Other rallies were held last year in cities in Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia and Idaho, according to information found on online newsletters.

While federal funding for the ¡Soy Única! ¡Soy Latina! initiative only lasted two years, Latinas Unidas was able to find local sponsors such as Wegmans, the City of Rochester, NSHMBA and UR to underwrite the funding and continue offering the rally, Reynolds said.

With Martínez’s help, NSHMBA plans to offer the rally at either Columbia University or Fordham University sometime this summer. Plans will move forward after Martínez wraps up her current book tour for Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night, according to her assistant Carolina Penafiel. Martínez also hosts "Viva Daisy" on The Food Network.

In addition to Martínez, who also served as the event’s "madrina," this year’s rally guests included County Executive Maggie Brooks, City Councilwoman Jackie Ortíz and Rochester City School District Board Commissioner Melisza Campos.

The theme was "Healthy Living, Healthy Choices," and workshops focused on nutrition, healthy relationships, managing finances and also included a panel discussion with college graduates. Nearly 90 girls and their mothers attended, said Karina Flaherty, also a Latinas Unidas board member.

Campos encouraged the girls to find what they are good at and make a career out of it, which will ultimately lead them to success, she said.

"It’s all about education," Campos added. "Education is the great equalizer."

Martínez reminded the girls that good nutrition also is an important part of their futures. She told them to learn to cook like their mothers and grandmothers and healthy eating will become a part of their routine.

"There’s nothing healthier than arroz con habichuelas," she said.

As the mother of four children, Martínez also offered practical advice to the mothers in the audience on preparing meals and growing produce with their children to create healthy eating habits.

As a working mom who’s also going to school, cooking fresh meals is a challenge for Teresa Ortíz. But after hearing Martínez explain that with advanced preparation, anyone can do it, Ortíz said that she is determined to change the eating habits of her 7-year-old daughter and herself. Now, many of their meals are from fast-food restaurants, and healthy eating is getting a submarine sandwich.

"I’m a third-generation (Hispanic) and not as connected to my roots and I don’t have as many women in my family here," said Ortíz, who lives in Greece. "But I’m going to try this and come back next year and see what the results are."

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