MANA - A National Latina Organization
Alma Riojas, President and CEO of MANA, A National Latina Organization, has dedicated herself to empowering Latina girls, a youth population that faces significant challenges. Latina girls face increased risks related to education, mental health, early substance abuse, and early childbearing compared to other teen girls.
MANA’s Hermanitas (“Little Sisters”) program matches Latina girls with mentors who help them avoid risky behaviors and make better choices. They encourage the girls to take pride in themselves, their families and their culture and to stay in school. The girls and their mentors go on museum outings and Girl Scout trips and volunteers hold health workshops that educate girls about teen pregnancy.
A Harvard study published this year showed that the Hermanitas program is showing success. The program helped change girls’ attitudes about drugs and alcohol and among the girls studied there was little initiation of drug or alcohol use. Anita Ayala, a former Hermanita, is proof the program is making a difference. The daughter of Mexican migrant laborers, she enrolled in the program when she was living in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Many young people in the community dropped out of school or joined gangs. No one in Anita’s family had ever completed high school, let alone college. With the support of her mentor, Anita became confident in herself.
She and the other girls in her local MANA chapter started their own company making and selling jewelry. They used the profits to remove graffiti and to clean up roads and parks in their neighborhood. The rest of the proceeds supported scholarships for other Hermanitas. Eventually, Anita earned a scholarship to Penn State University. She finished college in three years with three degrees—including one in Japanese. Anita is an example of the importance of caring adults like Alma Riojas. Asked how she feels about Alma, Anita said, “She’s an inspiration to me.”
Alma, a native Texan, has led MANA for the past seven years. She currently serves as vice chair of the boards of directors of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility and as vice chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
View Alma Riojas’ presentation at the 5th Regional Conference on Helping America’s Youth in Dallas, TX.