March 26, 2018
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This Austin nonprofit helps young Latinas—and their moms—fulfill their goals

By empowering mothers and their daughters, Renewal Awards finalist Con Mi MADRE is creating generational changes that can lift up an entire community

Con Mi MADRE, which translates from Spanish as “with my mother,” empowers young Latinas and their mothers through educational and social support services. Photo courtesy of Con Mi MADRE

EDITOR'S NOTE

Meet the finalists for The Renewal Awards, a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $150,000 in grant money. Ten winners will be announced March 27 at The Renewal Summit in New Orleans, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.

One in four female students in public schools
across the nation is a Latina. In Texas, they make up over half of the female student population. These young women have an opportunity to make an impact on their families, and in their communities.

The Texas nonprofit Con Mi MADRE mentors young Latinas and gives them to the tools and support to be positive forces in their communities. The Austin-based organization, whose name translates to “With My Mother,” empowers young women and their families. Executive Director Dr. Teresa Granillo explains Con Mi MADRE’s unique programming that invites Latina students and their mothers to support each other as they fulfill their family’s personal and educational goals. We asked Dr. Granillo to tell us how she started working with young Latinas, many who, like herself, grew up in single-parent, low-income households. The following is an edited and condensed version of our conversation. Learn more about Con Mi MADRE on their Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter at @ConMiMADRE.

Describe the community projects Con Mi MADRE is currently working on.

Con Mi MADRE’s education and support services begin in 6th grade and follow an increasingly rigorous set of program activities through high school and into college. Con Mi MADRE requires that the mother/female guardian be involved, and services for parents work to create a family culture that values education and academic success, embraces a college degree as an achievable dream, and supports parents in raising young women who are ambitious yet have a strong connection to family. The typical mother-daughter team receives 150-170 hours of program access and counseling each year. Latinas develop resources, skills, and support to fulfill their academic, personal, and career goals.

By including mothers, we are increasing the mother-daughter bond and creating systemic change in the educational and economic landscape of the Latina/o community. (Editor’s note: Learn more about Con Mi Madre’s programs here.)

Last fall, we implemented two new programs: During the 2016-2017 academic year, we piloted an elevated Post-secondary Preparedness Program to determine how best to serve our most at-risk, hard-to-reach students. We focused on our middle school students because we know that early intervention has a higher likelihood of long-term positive outcomes. For this pilot, we added an additional 12 school-based support group sessions for students at one our most at-risk schools, Burnet Middle School in Austin. These students received our services weekly rather than biweekly. Our social work staff delivered curriculum one week and then the next week was a support group for the girls. We saw increased engagement among these particular students, but more importantly we saw a 10 percent decrease in behavioral issues at school and a 20 percent increase in reported confidence that they will pursue higher education in the future.

For the other program, Con Mi MADRE partnered with Austin Independent School District to implement a Parent Leadership Program at 10 elementary schools. The focus of the program is to provide parents, most of whom are unemployed and Spanish language dominant, with an opportunity for short-term employment at their children’s school where they can develop leadership and workforce skills while increasing parent engagement on campus.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, Con Mi MADRE will provide our full range of education and support services to 950 mother-daughter teams in Central Texas. We will also expand our Parent Leadership Program to include 100 new parents in during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Tell us about the Con Mi MADRE community.

Latina adolescents are specifically at-risk of being born into poverty, experiencing teenage pregnancy, and facing significant mental health issues, all of which decrease the likelihood of academic success and post-secondary education. While we cannot change the immediate situation that one in three Latina children in the U.S. are living in poverty, we can ensure that this is not the case for the next generation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a Latina with a college education will make 69 percent more than a Latina with a high school education and 109 percent more than a Latina with no high school education.

Currently, Con Mi MADRE provides education and support services to young Latinas and their mothers in 26 schools in Central Texas, six schools in El Paso, and nine institutions of higher education. The majority of our students come from single-parent, low-income homes (70 percent) and they will be the first in their family to earn a post-secondary education (80 percent first-generation).

How did you start your community work?

I grew up in a single-parent low-income household. Due to our circumstances, volunteering just wasn’t something that we had time for. During high school and college, if I wasn’t in school, I was working to support my way through school. It wasn’t until I got to graduate school that I started participating in volunteer opportunities. I was part of the Latino Student Psychological Association and as a group we would mentor students in inner city Detroit. We would go out to schools and inspire students of color to stay focused on school and pursue higher education.

When I finished my graduate work and moved to Austin to become a Professor at the University of Texas in the School of Social Work, I found myself searching for something in the community to get involved with. That is when I found Con Mi MADRE. I actually started off as volunteer for the organization. I served on the Programming Committee; I was helping the staff develop a more robust program evaluation and I would share my story with the girls and mothers at conferences. I fell in love with the program and always wished that I had a Con Mi MADRE growing up … in reality, I did—my mother.

What inspired you to do this work?

Growing up, I had a lot help and support from counselors, mentors, and community members who believed in me. By the time I got to college and started thinking about my career, I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to help others. I pursued a degree in psychology, but I never thought it would lead me to where I am today.

If I had to choose one person that inspired me to do this work it would my mentor in college, Dr. Maria Teresa Velez. First and foremost, she was an educated Latina. More than that, she was truly invested in seeing young Latinas succeed. She always pushed me to reach higher and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I always dreamed of having her job, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Arizona, and helping students the way she helped me. I may not be a Dean at an institution of higher education, but I am helping students, particularly Latina students, navigate the pathway to and through postsecondary education. Every day I get the opportunity to pour my heart into helping the very population I care so deeply about and there is no more rewarding job than that.

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

When young Latinas in Central Texas participate in Con Mi MADRE’s holistic education and social support services with their mothers starting in the 6th grade, 100 percent will graduate high school, 80 percent will enroll directly into post-secondary education, and over 50 percent will persist to post-secondary degree completion. Furthermore, the likelihood that they will experience teenage pregnancy goes from 10 percent to less than 1 percent.

While there are many college access and persistence programs that target low-income minority students, Con Mi MADRE is the only college access and persistence program that intentionally focuses on Latina youth, a very at-risk group, and intentionally engages mothers in the educational journey from 6th grade to college graduation. Engaging mothers in the educational process to increase academic outcomes is not only supported by research, but it is also culturally relevant for Latinas.

A strong predictor of a child’s success in academics is her/his mother’s education level. By focusing on young females, many of whom will become mothers themselves one day, we are creating generational changes in educational attainment and economic stability among the entire Latina/o community. With Con Mi MADRE programming, for the next generation of Latinas and Latinos, the question is not IF, but rather WHERE they will pursue post-secondary education.

What do you love about your community?

We’re resilient! We’re stronger than we even think we are. Latinas take on a lot of the responsibilities of keeping the family safe, healthy, and moving forward. We value family above all else. The importance of family is a thread that ties all Latinas/os together. Even if we’re not related, we all understand and value the importance of family and treat each as if we were related.

We also value our history and culture; we’re a proud community. We celebrate our struggles and the struggles of our ancestors. We work hard and aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty, even if that means working in the fields or the mines to ensure that our families are fed and taken care of. My grandparents made the hard journey from Mexico so that their children and grandchildren could have more opportunities for education and employment. We hear this story everyday in our community and those of us who have benefitted from the hard work of our ancestors don’t take their sacrifices lightly. We take the opportunities and we excel, not just because it is in our nature to work hard, but also because we want to make our ancestors proud and we know that we’re representing our family in all that we do.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

Latina youth face many obstacles, but given the right support and culturally responsive education they can and they do overcome these obstacles.

Currently in Texas, 1 in 10 young Latinas will experience teenage pregnancy, which decreases her likelihood of getting a college education to 2 percent. Among Con Mi MADRE students, only 1 in the past four years has experienced teenage pregnancy and she continued on to post-secondary education because she had our support and the support of her mother. We plant the seed of college-going early, in the 6th grade, and we educate young Latinas about the factors that will prevent them from achieving their dream of a college education.

Latina adolescents have the highest rates of suicidal ideation and attempts compared to all other adolescent groups, male or female. The theory behind this high prevalence of mental health issues among Latina youth is due to the cultural clash they experience between their home life and expectations of their family and their school/social life and expectations of their peers. This is one of the reasons why we emphasize the importance of engaging the mothers of the young girls who we work with and increasing their communication skills and trust.

What leaders inspire you?

There are many leaders who inspire me, but the one that comes to mind currently is Brené Brown. She is a researcher and academic like myself and she has turned her research into meaningful change for thousands of individuals. What I most admire about her is her ability to embrace vulnerability and her life mission to educate people about being vulnerable and seeing vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. She has created programs to help people remove shame from their lives and learn how to be more authentic and compassionate with themselves and others.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.