AUSTIN (KXAN) — Mayor Steve Adler opened a Tuesday press conference by calling the local Austin non-profit Latinitas “a phenomenon.” He has good reason to do so. Since starting 17 years ago, the organization has served over 33,000 Latinas and others, meeting annually with about 2,000 here in Austin and close to thousands in other areas of Texas and outside the state.
But it didn’t start out that way.
“It began as a project in a class,” says Laura Donnelly, CEO and founder of Latinitas. “It just began as this grassroots project where we were actually teaching girls how to make media and do photography, make films.”
That simple idea has grown and evolved with Austin.
“Now they’re coding, they’re doing VR, they’re using drone technology,” Donnelly says. She couldn’t fathom such a change and pace when they started. “We never imagined that there would be hundreds of articles published, or that there would be hundreds of videos produced on YouTube, made by young Latinas about the issues that are interesting to them.”
Daniela Lastra, Development Manager for the non-profit. says representation is key for their community.
“As a Latina, sometimes you’re the first one going to college in your family … so having that support system is very essential to our organization to be in the communities that need us the most,” Lastra says.
Lastra didn’t have the same advantages growing up, so for her, it’s personal to be able to provide for younger Latinas.
But, she understands where they’re coming from.
“Just growing up as a young girl and finding yourself, and identifying there’s other opportunities for you out there,” Lastra says. Those opportunities include careers such as writing, filmmaking, web, graphic design, robotics, coding, drones, 3-D printing and more.
“The programs that we have … they give girls the opportunity to really envision themselves in those roles,” Lastra says.
Those girls will have the chance to do so this Saturday. Latinitas is hosting its 17th Annual Fundraiser on April 27 to celebrate the years of media and tech programming for Latina youth in Austin and abroad.
The funding for them is important. It’s what they rely on for such things as workshops, after-school programs, supplies, scholarships and other needs.
“The support of the community is very essential,” Lastra says.
For Donnelly, that support goes deeper.
“If we want to see the Austin that we really want, that everybody can latch onto, then we are going to have to see an emergence of new leadership … we’re gonna have to see more Latina leadership and at an organization like Latinitas we get the privilege of encouraging girls to go that route. That’s gonna make Austin the Austin that everybody loves.”
The event is April 27 from 6:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. at the Center For Social Innovation Event Space on Springdale Road.
Tickets are $75 online and $85 at the door. You have to be 21 and up. The theme is “classy cocktail” and festive attire is encouraged. All proceeds will support 25 Latinitas club programs at Title 1 schools and public housing sites, annual conferences and camps, workshops and leadership development programs.
Additional donations can be made at the event or on their Eventbrite.