Latina A.R.M.Y. Program Teaches Girls To Achieve Their Dreams


Kathryn O’Brien
Latina A.R.M.Y. may sound tough, but recently they have been drawing inspiration from something more delicate – the butterfly.
The New Haven-based organization, which stands for Accomplished Role-models Motivating Young Latinas, has developed a new mentoring workshop model, La Mariposa, which in Spanish means “butterfly.” The program encourages young Latinas to become empowered, make better choices and become their own advocates.
Organizers said that young Hispanic girls are more susceptible to engage in risky behaviors — like suicide, unprotected sex, or dropping out of school — which is an issue the program aims to address and a key reason why Latina A.R.M.Y. was originally founded. According to their website, the organization was established in 2008 “in response to the crisis state of young Latinas in the United States.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Hispanic females have the highest rate of suicide in grades nine to 12, at 13.5 percent, a teen pregnancy rate at approximately 20 percent, and that 58 percent of Latinas graduate from high school. But through La Mariposa, girls will learn that they can be more than just another statistic and that they can be part of the movement to break the cycle.
Thanks to two grant awards Latina A.R.M.Y. received last year, one from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the other from Hispanics in Philanthropy, the creation of the La Mariposa programwas propelled forward.
“We’re looking to engage not just public school districts but also state agencies and non-profits to become certified trainers in this new model within their own organizations,” Yolanda Caldera-Durant, co-chair of Latina A.R.M.Y. said.
With the new resources, the Latina A.R.M.Y. was able to hone in on what exactly the young women’s needs are and how they can help them excel, not only during the program, but afterward as well.
“The La Mariposa model is taking into account culturally specific issues. For example, a Latina girl from a Puerto Rican family and Puerto Rican culture has a specific set of values and it’s different from American [values],” Caldera-Durant said. “For young girls, it’s really hard from their perspective so we address those issues in our new model. We teach not to internalize the negative for all backgrounds.”

The new model explores the fact that young Latina girls hold certain sets of values and norms in Latino culture that are sometimes proportional with mainstream American culture, she added.

The organization originally offered a two-session workshop for young Latinas, but organizers recently decided to amp up their offerings. The end result was La Mariposa, an enhanced workshop that includes eight sessions, with a tight focus on cultural competency and the Latina experience. The organization will partner with local public schools to conduct the 75-minute motivational workshops where volunteer facilitators work with groups of 10-15 female students.
The volunteers work closely with their group and teach skills that foster empowerment and success in relation to the organization’s key workshop concepts: journaling, affirmation, personal rules and goal setting. The new model builds upon the four key concepts the Latina A.R.M.Y. consistently focuses on, which include health and wellness, careers and education, and meditation.
La Mariposa, although specifically targeted toward young Latina women, can also be beneficial to girls of other races. Caldera-Durant explained that the workshop concepts transcend race and the end results will be beneficial to everyone who participates.