Sonoma’s La Luz Center fosters Latino leaders
La Luz Center is looking for a few good leaders.
That’s been the objective of its Latino Leadership Program since its launch in 2017 – challenging young Latinos in Sonoma Valley to “transform their values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards.”
The Sonoma nonprofit’s longstanding mission is to advocate for and foster growth in the Latino community of Sonoma Valley. Two years ago, La Luz launched its Latino Leadership Program designed to provide participants with the skills needed to make significant contributions to the community.
With two successful program graduates under its belt, “the potential is limitless,” said La Luz associate executive director Veronica Vences.
“We started this because frankly, there were a lot of community members who were professionals but did not have access to the local professional network,” Vences said.
In other words, one of the best ways to establish oneself as a leader is to associate with already established leaders.
The six-month program is founded on the belief that leadership is a skill that can be learned and honed. It centers on interactive activities, lectures, discussion and reflection, according to program managers. The Leadership Program uses teaching materials from local consulting company FlashPoint Leadership; the initiative is based on the Leadership Challenge, developed by researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.
One key element of the program is its focus on mentoring and project work which reinforce the study of leadership – and to that end participants select a community project and a local mentor from a nonprofit organization.
Each August, a dozen or more aspiring leaders are selected to participate. Participants are selected from Sonoma Valley businesses, nonprofit organizations and referrals from program graduates.
La Luz board member Dorinda Parker says that, as much as the program benefits its participants, it benefits the greater Sonoma Valley as well, citing the half-dozen participants who now sit on local nonprofit boards.
“The Latino Leadership Program strengthens our community by enabling emerging leaders to come together to further develop their leadership capabilities,” Parker said. “Additionally, it allows participants to learn more about opportunities for contribution in our Sonoma Valley community.”
On Monday, May 20, La Luz Center hosted the graduation ceremony for its 2018 program.
Vences has been particularly pleased by the mentoring that has taken place between participants and the broader Sonoma business and nonprofit community.
“We heard so many times that people were not sure how to best give back to our Latino community,” Vences said. “With the Latino Leadership program we can create a more natural connection with potential leaders as they work with mentors from local nonprofits in the area.”
Now, former participants in the Latino Leadership program are leaders of their own within the community. First-year program participant Nick Mendelson is now a professional financial advisor and he said the Latino Leadership program was instrumental in helping him establish his career.
“I’ve absolutely applied everything I’ve learned in the program to my job I have today,” Mendelson said. “Becoming a leader and using those communication skills in an effective and progressive way that benefits everyone around you.”
Mendelson decided to get involved and apply for the program after witnessing the disconnect in the community between the non-Latino and Latino communities.
“I got involved because I really saw the gap in achievement and demographic within our school systems and nonprofit boards. I really wanted to bridge those gaps,” Mendelson said. “They simply weren’t representative of our broad and diverse demographic here in the Sonoma Valley.”
Mendelson notes that leadership comes more naturally to some people, and they often find their “limelight” early on.
“However no one talks about the quiet person in the corner that just needed a little extra help fostering those leadership skills,” said Mendelson. “That’s what this program can do.”