Posts

Monica Olivera shares resources for Hispanic families homeschooling post-pandemic

Monica Olivera is an author, a freelance education writer/materials creator, and founder of the educational resources site MommyMaestra.com where she focuses on resources for Hispanic homeschoolers, bilingual educators, and parents who simply want to be more involved in their children’s education. 

She has been writing about education for the last decade with a special emphasis on education for Hispanic families and bilingual education. Her articles have appeared on sites such as NBC.com, PBS Parents, and Woo! Jr. 

Hispanic heritage, homeschooling, and building a business 

Homeschooling has been a popular topic in the past year since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe and schools shut down long-term. Virtual learning became a divisive topic, with many parents expressing frustration with homeschooling while other parents readily embraced the change. 

According to a recent article from the Washington Post, the percentage of children in homeschooling has nearly tripled since mid-2019. The U.S. Census Bureau found that as of May 2021, more than 1 out of every 12 students is being homeschooled. 

Monica Olivera, author, a freelance education writer/materials creator, and founder of MommyMaestra.com (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

For Monica, her journey in the world of homeschooling began long before the pandemic, nearly a decade ago. Her choice to homeschool her young children was spurred by her desire to share her Hispanic heritage with her children and give them a culturally diverse curriculum that public schools were lacking. 

After moving to a small farming community away from family, Monica wished to nurture her children’s knowledge of Hispanic heritage and culture but struggled to find resources. She never planned to homeschool her children, but living in a failed school district where the state had closed one school and taken over the other, homeschooling seemed like the only option available. 

“I was terrified,” Monica said. “But I quickly grew to love it and realized that it provided the perfect opportunity to teach my kids about their heritage.” 

When searching for resources for Hispanic homeschoolers online proved to be difficult, Monica decided to start her own blog as a way to share what she was finding with other Hispanic homeschooling families. Soon, she began creating her own downloadable materials and her unexpected business took off.

“The cultural experiences of my childhood completely shaped my business. I wanted to pass on my heritage to my own children, and that passion grew until I one day realized that I didn’t want a great education with an emphasis on heritage just for my kids, but for all Hispanic children,” said Monica. 

Over the years, Monica has expanded her knowledge and appreciation beyond her own Spanish Mexican American heritage to encompass all Hispanic cultures and share the beauty of Hispanic heritage with a greater audience. 

“I love learning about and creating materials about other Spanish-speaking countries and cultures,” she said. “Helping children learn about and embrace their family’s heritage benefits everyone. Teaching non-Hispanic children about the culture also nurtures appreciation and breaks down stereotypes.”

MommyMaestra.com provides hundreds of resources for Hispanic homeschooling families.

Why homeschooling increased during the pandemic 

For parents who have recently embraced homeschooling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are a variety of factors that led to their choice, the pandemic of course being the most prominent one. 

However, while homeschooling has been most commonly found among White, religious families in the past, the recent increase in homeschooling has been seen among Black, Latino, and Asian families. For Black and Latino students, the homeschooling rate of increase has been dramatic. Between 2019 and May 2021 the homeschooling rate went from 1 percent to 8 percent for Black students and from 2 percent to 9 percent for Hispanic students, the Washington Post reported. 

This jump was influenced by more than just the pandemic. Other factors such as racism, discrimination, and a lack of cultural diversity in school curriculums influenced parents in their decision to homeschool their children full-time. 

You might be interested: So-called ‘good’ suburban schools often require trade-offs for Latino students

Many parents, like Monica, were inspired to use homeschooling as an opportunity to teach their children about their culture and heritage and provide them with a less biased curriculum. For many, the pandemic was simply the catalyst they needed to take the plunge into homeschooling. 

The Latino Family’s Guide to Homeschooling is a comprehensive guide to help families get started on their homeschooling journeys. (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

“I wrote my first book – The Latino Family’s Guide to Homeschooling – completely unaware that a pandemic was coming,” Monica shared. “When Covid hit, Hispanic families began flocking to homeschooling, especially when they realized that it was an opportunity to nurture their children’s bilingualism.” 

Monica’s book and printable downloads of reading passages, games, and activities that feature Hispanic figures, holidays, and traditions have been sought after by families across the country. 

Creating a community for Hispanic homeschooling families 

As more and more families embark on their homeschooling journeys, Monica’s resources continue to provide Hispanic families with the necessary tools to navigate homeschooling with ease. 

It’s never too early to start homeschooling. This guide helps caregivers homeschool the youngest of students. (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

For Monica, each of her own successes in her business means children across the country are learning to appreciate the beauty of Hispanic cultures and to be proud of their heritage. 

“I know that by helping parents help their kids, I’m helping individuals and families succeed and be happy,” she said. 

“I think what I love most about my business is reading the testimonials/reviews made by people who use my education materials. I also love hearing from parents and educators who write to me asking for help or guidance to find materials or asking where to start with homeschooling. I’m especially proud of the active Hispanic & Bilingual Homeschoolers group that I started on Facebook. There are so many great parents helping each other in that group.” 

When Monica started out, she was alone searching for resources to help teach her children. Now, a decade later, Monica has built a community for Hispanic homeschooling families to share and grow. 

For those who are at the beginning of their own journeys as homeschooling parents or entrepreneurs, Monica encourages that you continue to persist. 

“It’s okay to get discouraged from time to time. And you will most likely have days that you consider giving up. But if you believe in yourself and what you can do – especially if others try to convince you otherwise – you can achieve greatness. Always be honest and always help others. It will come back to you in abundance.”

“The pandemic caused much struggle for small business owners and we need to repair”, say Brooklyn2Bogota founders

Rosario B. Casas and Felipe Andrés Forero Hauzeur are the founders of Brooklyn2Bogota, a digital incubator for Hispanic business owners. Rosario is an award-winning women-in-tech advocate and serial tech entrepreneur. Felipe is an author, entrepreneur, engineer and veteran.  

The married couple founded Brooklyn2Bogota with the mission to close the digital divide post-Covid for business owners and entrepreneurs by focusing on empowerment, digital transformation, and business growth through a variety of activities and mentor lectures. 

In the fifth installment of the National Leaders for Latinx Advancement Series, Latinas in Business President and CEO, Susana G Baumann sat down with Rosario and Felipe to discuss the incubator program and how Latino businesses can grow post-pandemic. 

The pandemic push that launched their dream 

Brooklyn2Bogota leaders Rosario B. Casas and husband Felipe Andrés Forero Hauzeur. (Photo courtesy Rosario B. Casas)

The husband-and-wife duo first began envisioning Brooklyn2Bogota sometime in 2015. At the time they were living in New York City and Felipe was working as a diplomat for the community. Together, they began wondering how else they could help the Hispanic community, especially immigrants. They wanted to help the community in other ways, aside from the legal work Felipe was already doing at the time. 

As an entrepreneur, Rosario began imagining ways to help Latino business owners and entrepreneurs succeed and grow their businesses and soon the seeds for Brooklyn2Bogota were planted. She quickly began reserving the name ‘Brooklyn2Bogota’ across various sites and platforms with her early vision in mind. Over time, Rosario and Felipe continued to develop this idea of an incubator program that would nurture entrepreneurs and small business owners on their journeys. 

“We had planned to launch more or less for 2022,” said Rosario. “But then the pandemic happened, the crisis happened, and we knew we had to launch early. The pilot plan was launching the first cohort. Today we are in the third cohort.” 

The pandemic caused much struggle for small business owners, especially in minority populations such as the Latino community. In the past year since Brooklyn2Bogota’s lauch, three cohorts have provided resources, assistance, and mentorships to Latino entrepreneurs and business owners. Covid-19 brought many things into focus, such as the impact of technology in our lives and the importance of community and working together. 

“When you speak of unity, you have to understand the numbers and the power that we have,” said Felipe, speaking about the vast and growing Latino population in the US. “Hispanics are now almost 25 percent of the population of the United States.” 

As such a large population, the Hispanic community has the potential to impact the economy and the country’s businesses. However, for too long, minority communities have struggled to gain the resources and knowledge necessary for success and growth. This is where Rosario and Felipe stepped up to help through Brooklyn2Bogota’s programs. 

Closing the digital divide for Latino businesses post-Covid 

Brooklyn2Bogota’s program is based on three fundamental pillars: Leadership, Product and Growth. As a tech entrepreneur, Rosario understands the importance of technology when it comes to running a business. Since the pandemic, the digital divide has become more obvious. Many business owners struggled to shift online during the pandemic and their businesses suffered. Rosario and Felipe want to close that divide so that every entrepreneur may succeed. 

The incubator program focuses on helping non-tech entrepreneurs and business owners who are unfamiliar with the world of tech. They offer information, resources, and mentorship to accelerate and promote digital learning. 

Many past videos of lectures and mentor sessions available online for free and the information is delivered in Spanish. This was important to Rosario and Felipe, since language barrier is often a barrier for knowledge. There is a plethora of resources in English but not as much in Spanish for Latino business owners and entrepreneurs, the couple explained. Many Latinos also prefer to learn in their native language, especially when the concepts are new or complicated. 

women-in-tech

Rosario at TEDxTalk. (Photo courtesy Rosario B. Casas)

In the 10-week cohort entrepreneurs receive theoretical sessions and panels of specialized topics, dictated by carefully selected mentors. Focusing on the three pillars: Leadership, Product and Growth participants work to accelerate their growth in digital world post-COVID. The thematic mentoring sessions between members and participants provides them expert knowledge and guidance as they move through the program. 

You might be interested: Rosario B. Casas shares how the pandemic has accelerated technology and tech trends to keep an eye on

Finally, the program provides participants with a private network that brings together the mentors and participants who complete the program. This network allows for further connection, collaboration, and exchange of ideas in the future and continued growth for entrepreneurs and business owners. 

The fourth cohort is tentatively set to begin in April 2022. For more information and to apply, visit Brooklyn2Bogota.com

LUCA founder Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, how the pandemic has impacted Latino college enrollment

Shirley Acevedo Buontempo is the founder of Latino U College Access (LUCA), a social impact nonprofit organization that helps Latino families with access to college. Born in Puerto Rico, Shirley is a first-generation college graduate herself, making the issue of college access for Latino students very close to her heart. 

Shirley Acevedo Buontempo

Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, founder, Latino U College Access (Photo Courtesy)

Through LUCA, Shirley helps to achieve educational equity and opportunity for Latino youth and empowers low-income first-generation Latino students on their journeys to and through college so that they can fulfill their potential.

In the fouth installment of the National Leaders for Latinx Advancement Series, Latinas in Business President and CEO, Susana G Baumann, spoke to Shirley to discuss initiatives for the advancement of Latino students seeking higher education. 

How the pandemic has disproportionately affected Latino college enrollment

The pandemic has created additional hurdles for Latino students, whose families and communities have been disproportionately impacted. For many Latino students, their parents were the frontline workers, restaurant workers, or employees who lost their jobs. As a result, many students that were thinking or planning to go to college have had to make a change in their plans. 

According to LUCA, Latino enrollment in college and applications for financial aid has decreased in the last two years, dropping 20% in the fall of 2020 and about 6%, in the spring of 2021. Financial aid applications have gone down by 10%  and Latino youth are not going to college at the same rates that they were prior to the pandemic. These setbacks are motivating LUCA to continue its efforts in helping Latino students advance in their pursuits for higher education. 

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83886323762?pwd=dTNKQW1yVy94T0gxMFJNRkZzVThjZz09

 

LUCA initiative programs to guide first-generation students through college

To help students and their families through the challenging process of college applications and beyond, LUCA’s three pillars of programs create a long-term path where students are supported for six years with access to resources and advocates as they navigate their journey through college. 

“When you’re first-gen, you have every desire and ambition to pursue your college education, but oftentimes you’re going through the process alone. Your families came to this country seeking an opportunity for themselves and for you, and as a first-gen student, you know that education is the path forward, especially here in America. However, when you’re first-gen, you don’t have the information, the resources, or the experience to understand and navigate this complex process of admissions and financial aid. And even once you get into college, you’re often feeling like you’re alone in that process. That’s why we stay with the students for this long period of time.”  

LUCA’s Community Information Sessions is one of its programs that help families understand and navigate the college application process. These hour-long presentations are conducted completely in Spanish and are culturally relevant, covering important topics such as Pathways to College, Applying to College, and Paying for College, followed by Q&A time so that families can get as much information as possible. 

“Since I launched the organization nine years ago, over 6000 parents and students have come to these presentations,” said Shirley. “When you welcome the Latino community in their language, and they know that this information was designed to be relevant to them, our families are thirsty for this and want this information.” 


The second pillar program LUCA offers is the Latino U Scholar program. This program provides intensive, one-on-one mentoring to students from the end of junior year through senior year of high school. To participate in this program, qualifying students are nominated by their guidance counselor to become a scholar in their junior year. Nominated students must demonstrate high academic potential with a 3.5 GPA or higher, be a low-income student, and demonstrate that they are the first in their family to go to college in the US. 

“We do have a lot of families whose parents maybe were college graduates in their native country, be it in South America or in the Caribbean, but because they cannot transfer those degrees here to the US they’re working as taxi drivers or housekeepers. So their children are still considered first-generation. The scholar’s program gives students one-on-one support in every step of the process,” said Shirley. 

You might be interested: So-called ‘good’ suburban schools often require trade-offs for Latino students

Finally, the third program LUCA offers is the First Gen Forward program, a success and career readiness program that supports students in the transition to college, adapting to college, and helping students remain in school so they graduate on time. The program provides mentorship and resources for first-generation students as they move through their four years of college. The program also helps students prepare for their future careers by providing resume writing workshops, interview prep, and matching students with internship opportunities. 

LUCA’s methods have proved to be successful. By continuing to support Latino students long-term, students have had higher rates of success and 99% of LUCA students remain on track to graduate. That number is significant because nationally, only 46% of students remain in college among the Latino community. 

“When you’re first-gen, getting into college is only the first half of the battle. Staying in college, graduating, and being ready for careers are the next stages. And many times, first-gen students will drop out of college in the first two years, not because of academics, but because of other social or financial issues. And so our goal is to make sure that our kids remain on track,” Shirley concluded. 

Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating and honoring the contributions of Hispanic Americans

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated each year from September 15th to October 15th in the United States. The month is a celebration of Hispanic Heritage and  a time to recognize and honor the contributions of Hispanic Americans in the nation’s history, culture, and achievements. 

The history and why we celebrate 

National Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson.  Twenty years later in 1988 it was expanded to cover a 30-day period by President Ronald Reagan. 

Many who are unfamiliar with Hispanic Heritage Month often wonder why the celebration begins in the middle of September rather than at the beginning. September 15th was chosen as the start date to recognize and commemorate the anniversary of  the independence day for various Latin American countries. 

September 15th marks the independence of five Hispanic countries who declared their independence in 1821: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additionally, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16th and September 18th, respectively. 

Hispanic Heritage Month

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

In addition to recognizing the independence of various Latin American countries, the month is a celebration of Hispanic accomplishment. We celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month as a reminder of all that Hispanic Americans have achieved and helped shape the nation. 

“Our communities are represented by Hispanic elected officials, and our children are taught by Hispanic teachers.  Our future will be shaped by Hispanic engineers who are working to develop new technology that will help us grasp our clean energy future and by the skilled union workers who are going to build it,” said President Biden in White House proclamation

The U.S. Hispanic population is a powerhouse that continues to grow to new heights. According to the 2020 census data, the Hispanic population reached 62.1 million, or 18.7% of the total population in 2020. Additionally, the 2020 State of Latino Entrepreneurship Report conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business in collaboration with the Latino Business Action Network revealed that the number of Latino-owned businesses has grown 34% over the last 10 years compared to just 1% for all other small businesses. Were it not for the growth in the number of Latino-owned firms, the total number of small businesses in the U.S. would actually have declined between 2007 and 2012.

“National Hispanic Heritage Month is an important reminder of how much strength we draw as a Nation from our immigrant roots and our values as a Nation of immigrants,” President Biden continued. 

Ways to observe Hispanic Heritage Month 

Hispanic Heritage Month can be observed in many ways. As a celebration of culture and history, individuals can honor the month by engaging with Hispanic created content such as books, films, music, and more. The National Hispanic Heritage Month website, hosted by The Library of Congress, offers many activities, events, and resources to help celebrate and educate. 

Another way to honor the month is to support Hispanic-owned small businesses. Minority small businesses have suffered the most in the past year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Many Hispanic-owned businesses struggled to stay afloat or are still struggling. Supporting these businesses helps put money back into the community and honor the work of Hispanic Americans, ensuring that these businesses will continue. 

You might be interested: 10 Books by Latinx authors to read summer 2021 

Hispanic Heritage Month asks us to look around and take in all that Hispanic Americans have achieved, both in history and today. It asks us to remember we are a diverse and extraordinary community. It asks us to be visible and speak our history. We celebrate by remembering. We celebrate by learning. We celebrate by supporting.

“We need to speak up about social justice” says Prospanica CEO Thomas Savino

Thomas Savino is the Chief Executive Officer of Prospanica, the nationally recognized and premier nonprofit dedicated to developing Hispanic talent and growing the number of Hispanic professionals represented in the industries of America to perpetuate economic growth and corporate competitiveness.

Recently Thomas spoke to Latinas in Business CEO and President, Susana G Baumann in an interview, where they discussed how Prospanica is working to address social justice issues through its new Center for Social Justice. 

Celebrating its one-year anniversary, the Center for Social Justice was established with the mission to  “improve our ability to have critical conversations about social justice issues as a diverse and multi-faceted community. We want to encourage civil discourse and make it easier and more available.” 

Three driving forces in the creations of the Center for Social Justice

Through the Center for Social Justice, Prospanica is taking an important step toward addressing the most pressing social issues affecting the Hispanic community today. 

Before the creation of the Center, Prospanica, like many organizations, steered clear of these topics. For a long time, corporations and organizations avoided conversations about divisive topics such as social justice issues. 

However, in recent years there has been a noticeable shift, especially in corporate America. Social issues are now at the forefront of every conversation. People want to know where the corporations and companies they trust stand on these issues. This shift is one of the three main drivers that lead to the creation of the Center.

“Corporate America is far different, say from 1988 than it is today. If we look at the conversations and the statements they’re making, and the efforts they’re making, the conversation is vastly different,” said Thomas. “And the way they’re trying to open and change their culture is far more compelling today than it was, frankly, even five years ago, right, let alone in 1990. There are all sorts of experts out there, corporate CEOs of Fortune 500 companies saying we must have a just society, and here are the issues….We see this all over the place and so that’s one key thing, that corporations who are key funders to everything we do have essentially changed where they are.” 

With corporations now opening up to having these conversations, came the need for education and training in how to have these conversations. This was the second key driver in the creation of the Center. 

“I think because we’ve never spoken about it, it’s a missing component of what we speak about as Prospanica. We want to promote education, but social justice issues impact the Hispanic community and how we get educated. They impact how you know, how we graduate, where we live, all those sorts of things. So it’s important to fold it in, it’s a missing piece of what we talked about when we want to work with safe young professionals doing professional development. So that’s the second piece we’ve never really addressed,” said Thomas. 

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Lastly, the third driver was Generation Z and the events of the past year. From the pandemic to social unrest, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more, it became clear that there was a need in the community for these discussions and conversations surrounding social issues. 

Among all of this, Generation Z has been leading the way and pushing for action and impact. “What they’re saying is, you got to have an impact now. And so you got to address these things head-on,” Thomas said. “The younger people expect the corporations where they work and where they put their money to address these issues now.”  

Opening the conversation 

The Center for Social Justice was overwhelmingly well received. Still, there were some, particularly those of older generations, who questioned and challenged its purpose. For many, the issues that the Center would address were topics that older generations had been taught not to speak about. 

The first goal of the Center was born out of this reluctance to speak out. Part of the Center’s mission is to help teach and prepare members to speak about these subjects in a professional, non divisive manner. 

“We didn’t grow up learning to have these types of discussions,” said Thomas. “So this is a way of professional development, another way to teach our professionals wherever you go, you name it doesn’t matter what your politics are, you can speak about this in a professional, non-divisive manner. And then it’s a way for the organization as a whole to start researching these things and learn a lot more.” 

The Center for Social Justice combines research, dialogue, and training to educate and inform. Tackling social issues such as DACA and Immigration Reform, The Afro Latino Experience, Black Allyship, The Black Lives Matter Movement, Colorism in Latino History, and more the Center is committed to having open conversations about the issues affecting the Hispanic community today. 

You might be interested: Teaching leadership: Helping children become leaders and develop strong communication skills

Only in their first year, the Center is still growing and building, with initiatives such as supporting the Hispanic Promise and opening scholarships up to DACA students, something they had previously never done before. Still, as a nonprofit organization, Prospanica remains cautious as they navigate political and social issues. Here is where the partnership with other organizations is key. 

“We’re still very careful with the political world. Well, one because listen, we’re not very experienced with that. And to the politicians can be tough. I’d rather go talk to my peers at Unidos U.S. and LULAC, for instance, and kind of get their take on it,” said Thomas. 

Through collaboration, dialogue, and partnership, the conversation continues as the Center works to address and educate professionals on these cultural social issues to create a better, more just, and diverse world for current and future generations. 

Latino population powerhouse: 2020 Census data reveals huge diversity growth

2020 Census data reveals that Latinos account for over half of the country’s population growth in the past decade. 

Latinos are a powerhouse population that are only growing to new heights. In both business and population, recent data shows that Latinos and Hispanics are an integral and vital force with the power to make great shifts in the U.S. economy and political landscape. 

Photo by Roberto Vivancos from Pexels

Earlier this year, the 2020 State of Latino Entrepreneurship Report conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business in collaboration with the Latino Business Action Network revealed that the number of Latino-owned businesses has grown 34% over the last 10 years compared to just 1% for all other small businesses. Were it not for the growth in the number of Latino-owned firms, the total number of small businesses in the U.S. would actually have declined between 2007 and 2012.

Now, the results of the 2020 Census data reveal similar growth among the U.S. Hispanic population. The overall U.S. population grew by 7.4% over the last decade to reach 331 million. The rate of growth was the slowest since the 1930s. However, just over half of that total growth was due to increases in the U.S. Hispanic population. 

Latinos are a powerhouse population

According to the census data, the Hispanic population reached 62.1 million, or 18.7% of the total population in 2020, compared to 16.4% in 2010 and 12.6% in 2000. In contrast, the U.S. white population alone is shrinking, while people identifying as white in combination with another race has grown by 316 percent. 

Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels

These changes in population revealed by the 2020 Census will have a great impact on the country’s political landscape. The result of the census will be used to draw new voting districts for next year’s midterm elections. With a growing diverse population, we undoubtedly will begin to see changes in the coming elections as diverse communities will be likely to elect diverse leaders. 

In California, the Hispanic population became the largest in the state in 2020. Currently, more than 39% of Californians identify as Hispanic or Latino, compared to the state’s white population which only amounted to 35% according to the 2020 Census data. 

Census data also revealed a drop in the number of Hispanics who identify as white. In 2010, 26.7 million identified as white, while now only 12.6 million identify as such. 

2020 Census, Latino population

Percentage Distribution of the Hispanic of Latino Population: 2010 and 2020. (Graphic source)

In an article with NBC News, Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, “Today’s data release from the 2020 Census demonstrates that the Latino community is a huge and increasing part of our nation’s future.”

These numbers will help shape the nation in the years to come. Not only will the census data help redraw voting districts, but these numbers will also be used to divide federal funding to community programs, determine divisions for city council and other boards such as school districts. 

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, vice president of UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino advocacy group, said that the increase in diversity is the source of the nation’s strength. However, she notes that, “Despite our contributions to the country, the realities of our lives aren’t always recognized and worse, in too many cases, we are actively demonized.” 

You might be interested: Death in the fields: U.S. Migrant farm workers are dying as extreme heat rises

The new data is a reminder of the power the Latino and Hispanic population hold. As the largest growing population, Latinos can no longer be ignored. 

Alexita Bridgeman educates Latino families and business owners on the importance of life insurance post-COVID19

As we’ve seen throughout COVID-19 pandemic stories, many families were not prepared for this virus. Financial devastation and unexpected deaths have left many at a great loss and has emphasized the importance of things like life insurance and financial literacy, and savings. 

Alexita Bridgeman, Statewide Insurance Solutions insurance broker agent and financial literacy education coordinator. (Photo credit from 1Click Imaging)

Alexita Bridgeman is working to help inform and educate individuals on the importance of these topics through her work as an insurance broker agent and financial literacy education coordinator. 

How Alexita found her calling helping others as a Latina insurance agent 

Alexita was born in New Jersey to Peruvian immigrant parents who settled in Pennsylvania after living in Los Angeles, California and became a single mom at an early age. To provide for her family she went to college and worked real estate part-time, selling homes. Later, she got a license for insurance with the goal to work only when the banks were open, allowing more time for her family and volunteer work in the community and local prison on the weekends.  

She first started working in the Poconos, Pennsylvania a 1.5 hour ride from NY, then when Obamacare came into effect 2010, she became an agent. 

“My obstacle at the time was not being able to clone myself. The laws had changed regarding medical insurance and it was difficult to gather all information needed. Insurance is not an easy subject in English let alone Spanish. The service was in demand but it allowed me to introduce other insurance products to protect families financially. I had to sacrifice late nights in order to have weekends with my family and do what I love.”

Now, as an agent at Statewide Insurance Solutions LLC, Alexita works to assist Spanish-speaking families and business owners through the process of enrolling in health plans and other insurance products. 

Education is power, “ignorance is expensive”

Located in the heart of Easton, Pennsylvania, Statewide Insurance Solutions is just a short walk from Philipsburg, New Jersey and historical tourist attractions like the Delaware River and Crayola Factory. With Easton being home to many South and Central Americans as well as Caribbean Latinos, the Spanish-speaking insurance agency caters to the local Latino population, offering solutions for home and business. 

Alexita hosts free classes online with no pressure to buy, just to inform and educate because “ignorance is expensive.” (Photo credit from 1Click Imaging)

During the past year of COVID-19, Alexita and her agency have worked hard to provide life insurance for families and general liability insurance for new businesses starting up from home. 

“The demand for home remodelers and general contractors rose and protection for small businesses became available. Online access for business startups such as roofing, carpentry, and landscapers has always been the center of the Spanish speaking community along with restaurants and barbershops,” says Alexita. 

“Covid and other health issues have fired up the importance of life insurance, a very “un-sexy” topic for Latinos,” she says. To combat the ignorance and stigma surrounding health insurance, Alexita hosts free classes online with no pressure to buy, just to inform and educate because “ignorance is expensive,” she says. 

You might be interested: Tips to improve your financial smarts this National Financial Literacy Month 

“Just because one does not speak English, it doesn’t mean that they are not intelligent. Middle income America, in any language, is unaware of the options that are available to protect their family and protect their business reputation. People do business with those they like and trust. In my world if both do not align that means I must work harder on myself so I can sleep and know that I gave my best!” 

life insurance

7 Ways to protect your family, business, and reputation. (Photo credit from 1Click Imaging)

“Dale con ganas,” Give it your all! 

As a Latina professional, Alexita’s strengths lie in her ability to connect, network, and educate  the Hispanic community. She has been able to leverage social media to reach others and provide educational resources to Spanish-speaking families and business owners who need them most. 

“I am a proud host of free dinner classes,  lunch and learn workshops that teach about money protection, homebuying, credit counseling and tax savings programs. When people come to me for help I feel honored that they trust me to help in their family or business goals and with protecting their financial household,” she says. 

Alexita’s advice to other Latina and minority women is: “Dale con ganas,” give it your all! 

“When you take the risk, your gifts will bless others,” says Alexita. “It will all be returned to you in one way or another. Blessings are not always monetary.”

So if you have an idea, business venture, or dream, then take the risk and go for it. Your efforts will be rewarded in time.

COVID-19 vaccine

NYC data reports racial and ethnic disparities in distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 has revealed many of the racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare faced by people of color and ethnic groups. From suffering from higher disproportionate rates of infection and death, to disproportionately being more likely to end up in the hospital, communities of color and ethnic minority groups have been hit harder by the virus than white populations. Now we are seeing further disparities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. 

COVID-19 vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccine is here. But which groups are being prioritized? (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

Racial and ethnic disparities in distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

As the vaccine begins to roll out across various states, new data shows that there are already disparities among recipients. In New York, data revealed that while 24% of the city’s residents are Black, only 11% of Black residents received the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, White residents have received a disproportionate share of vaccines. 

The city’s demographic data is still incomplete, with many vaccine recipients not reporting their race or ethnicity. Currently, the race of about 263,000 people who received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is not known. 

However, of nearly 300,000 city residents who received one dose and whose race was recorded, about 48 percent were white, 15% were Latino, 15 percent were Asian and 11% were Black. Latino and Black residents were underrepresented: The city’s population is roughly 29% Latino and 24% Black.

The disparities were even more striking among city residents aged 65 and up: Only 9% of the roughly 125,000 older New Yorkers who received the COVID-19 vaccine were Black.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was frustrated that New Yorkers in communities of color were not getting vaccinated. 

“Clearly we do see a profound disparity that needs to be addressed aggressively and creatively,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference.

racial and ethnic disparities

Only 11% of NYC’s nearly 300,000 vaccine recipients were Black, data reveals. (Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

One key factor is the racial and ethnic disparities is the complex scheduling system which many in underserved communities struggle to navigate. Residents have complained about the complicated process for scheduling appointments, long wait times on phones, and sudden appointment cancellations. Younger people have been helping their older relatives navigate the system, but the issue still needs to be addressed from the top especially since data reveals that white New Yorkers are navigating the vaccination system more easily than other populations. This signals that there is an accessibility issue, preventing certain communities from navigating the system. 

Mr. de Blasio has since pledged to address the problem by improving the appointment scheduling system and increasing outreach in more languages to make the system accessible to diverse communities. 

Still many elected officials have come out to criticize and blame the Mayor for failing to reach the city’s Black and Latino residents. 

Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams, deemed the city’s response to the virus as having “turned into our Katrina” — a reference to the 2005 hurricane that hit New Orleans and overwhelmingly devastated Black residents.

“We know who is most at risk and who is suffering the most — and they are mostly Black and brown,” he said. “They have been abandoned and they are dying because of it. That must end today.”

Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate, said the racial and ethnic disparities shown in the data was “a scathing indictment of how broken the system is.”

NYC vaccination sites prioritizing out-of-city residents over local communities

In addition to the accessibility and outreach issues, many of the city’s vaccinations have been going to people who live outside of the city. 

It’s been reported that at least 94,000 people who live outside the city have received the COVID-19 vaccine in New York. The mayor has defended this saying that many of those vaccinated work in the city. However, the racial divide among out-of-city vaccine recipients is even greater: 59% of recipients were white while only 7% were Black. 

racial and ethnic disparities

Racial disparities among out-of-city vaccine recipients is even greater: 59% of recipients were white while only 7% were Black. (Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

One vaccination site was recently called out in a report by The City for prioritizing outsiders over the community’s local population where over 70% of residents are Latino. The Armory Vaccination Center in Washington Heights has since agreed to prioritize residents from the local community and give new vaccines to New Yorkers only. 

Commenting on this inequity, Mayor Blasio said, “If a site is in a community, particularly a community hard hit by COVID, it should be all about reaching out to that community and bringing people in.”

Mark Levine, a city councilman who chairs the Council’s health committee, has called for several measures to close what he called the “vaccine equity gap,” including giving residents of local ZIP codes scheduling priority in communities of color.

“We need to take action now to fix yet another egregious case of inequity in this pandemic,” Mr. Levine said.

The city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, and comptroller Scott Stringer, have also called for critical changes to be made, calling the vaccine roll-out “almost criminal” and a “national embarrassment.” 

They are calling for Mayor Blasio to stop vaccinating people who live outside the city, to fix the confusing scheduling system, and provide paid time off for essential workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

You might be interested: Recent survey data reveal the effects of COVID-19 on women’s careers

Disparities across states and dwindling supplies

New York City is not the only city facing racial disparities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. In New Jersey, about 48% of vaccine recipients were white, and only 3% were Black, despite the state’s Black population being 15%, according to state data. In Chicago, similar numbers were reported: only 15% of vaccine recipients were Black white 53% were white.

In addition to the racial disparities preventing the vaccine from reaching all demographics equally, vaccine supplies are also dwindling. 

In New York City, about 600,000 people have received a first dose of the vaccine since mid-December. Mayor Blasio has repeatedly said that the city is running out of doses and cannot accelerate the rollout without a greater supply. On Sunday, the city had only about 53,000 first doses left.

Currently there are more than 150 million people — almost half the U.S. population —eligible to be vaccinated. Each state determines who goes first, though, and currently the nation’s 21 million healthcare workers, three million residents in long-term care facilities, and high risk residents with medical conditions are top priority. 

Adults in the general population are at the back of the line and distribution issues will continue to push back eligibility unless federal and state health officials can clear up bottlenecks in distribution. If supply and distribution issues are remedied, everyone 16 and older may be eligible to receive the vaccine as early as this spring. 

To stay up-to-date and for more information on COVID-19 vaccine policies in your area, visit your state’s health website.

Almirca Santiago on forging and choosing a career path that fulfills YOU

Almirca Santiago is the Senior Director for Grantmaking and Operations at the Hispanic Federation (HF), with 15 years experience working in the nonprofit sector. At the Hispanic Federation, Almirca helps to empower and advance the Hispanic community, support Hispanic families, and strengthen Latino institutions through work in the areas of education, health, immigration, civic engagement, economic empowerment, & the environment. 

Following her family’s footsteps

Almirca Santiago, Senior Director for Grantmaking and Operations at the Hispanic Federation. (Photo courtesy Almirca Santiago)

Almirca has a clear vision of her work now, but it was not always this way. Growing up and throughout college, Almirca was not quite sure where her career path would take her. She knew she wanted to help others, especially fellow Latinos within her community, but what exactly her career would be, remained a mystery for some time. 

For a while, she thought she might follow in her family’s footsteps and become a business owner. Growing up in the Bronx and later in Northern Manhattan, Almirca was surrounded by immigrant and Spanish-speaking communities. Within these communities, small businesses were everything and Almirca’s own family was a family of entrepreneurs, pursuing business in all areas. 

“From owning bodegas to salons, check cashing/remittance, hardware stores, establishing home businesses, etc,” Almirca describes. “My mother, whose parents were business owners in the Dominican Republic, came to this country with the same desire while raising 3 kids, going to school and working a regular job.  She taught me what it means to be una mujer emprendedora.”

As a child, Almirca would accompany her mother as she purchased merchandise to sell from her home business. Everywhere she went, Almirca was known as “Rosa’s Daughter” by the vendors and clients. She was her mother’s little helper and this experience was both fun and incredibly educational and later inspired her to go to Norman Thomas High School for Commercial Business as a teen. 

“Throughout my childhood, I helped my mother with inventory, organization, and numbers. While she was always practicing her English, I also helped with paperwork and translation when necessary. She was the expert and talent; I was her operational support,” says Almirca. 

Growing up, she not only helped her mother, but also friends and family with a variety of tasks. Some of these tasks included helping immigrants navigate a system that was not immigrant-friendly. These formative experiences affected Almirca’s decisions and helped prepare her professionally for her future career in the nonprofit sector. 

Taking the unconventional path

Following her high school career at Norman Thomas High School for Commercial Business, Almirca then went off to Syracuse University to study International Business. Here she began to wander off the entrepreneurial path, into new territory. 

“Within my first year of studies, my major changed to International Relations.  I joined a sorority, Señoritas Latinas Unidas/Sigma Lambda Upsilon, because my mother instilled in me the importance of empowering ourselves and others as women and engaging in community involvement,” says Almirca. 

It was during her time with her sorority that Almirca’s passion for nonprofit work truly began to flourish. Within her sorority, she began working on social and political justice issues and helping underserved communities. 

“To serve the mission of the organization, we worked on educating students and providing resources to the community within the city of Syracuse.  We talked about social and political issues as Latinas and people of color. I completed an internship with the Onondaga County/Syracuse Commission on Human Rights.” 

Later, while studying abroad in Strasbourg, France, Almirca completed an internship with an organization that created community awareness on the issue of domestic violence. Each year and semester at university became a new exploration on how to merge her acts of service to the community with a potential career track. 

“As a student who did not receive much assistance from the university on an advisory level, it was very difficult to find direction,” Almirca says. 

I was on an unconventional track. Not pursuing law school, medicine, or accounting. Those were the common tracks my family would speak of but those were not the subjects that inspired me.”

However, a career path soon became clearer as she continued her service work. While her mother had always instilled in her the responsibility to help those in need, it was not until her sorority experience that she was able to envision a career based on her community service work. 

It was not the entrepreneurial path she originally thought she would take, and it was not the conventional paths her family spoke of, but it was something entirely her own. 

Searching for the right fit

Almirca forged her own career path into the world of nonprofit and service work. Post-graduation, with a Liberal Arts Bachelor’s degree, she began working for the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR) after months of a challenging job search. 

“I began as a program associate and worked my way up to functioning as the Executive Director’s right hand. For 8.5 years, I worked on developing and running programs to help the community with their immigration needs and advocating on a political level.  I also learned a lot about the organizational functions which are essentially the same as running a small business.”

Almirca forged her own career path into the world of nonprofit and service work. (Photo courtesy Almirca Santiago)

 Her time at NMCIR helped her to grow and develop a diverse list of skills. Almirca learned to wear “all the hats” working at the nonprofit. She could tackle anything. 

“As a Latina who is trying to show off her talents and ‘prove her worth’ as we are often taught to do growing up, I made sure I was able to take on whatever task came my way,” Almirca says. “I can write proposals, provide immigration-related application assistance, run a payroll and hire all in the same day!” 

Still, while these diverse skills were incredibly useful, Almirca was searching for her “niche.” She would ask herself, “What can I see myself doing for the next 10 – 20 years?” As she began applying for other jobs, she soon found that many considered her “over-qualified” or “too green.” She had the skills and the drive, but there seemed to be no specific area of work that fit her variety of skills and interests. Once again she would have to forge her own way to land her dream career. 

Forging your own path

Almirca continued on her own career path, going after what she wanted out of her career, not what others thought she should pursue. 

 “As a Latina in the USA there are all types of pressures and milestones people try to impose on us but I have learned it is okay to forge and choose the path that fulfills YOU,” she says. 

Now at the Hispanic Federation (HF) since February of 2015, Almirca works as the Senior Director for Grantmaking and Operations. This position allows her to pursue all her interests and utilize her skills to help the Hispanic community. Her prior experiences working for nonprofit organizations on all levels has also given her an advantage in her current position as she now works extensively with Latino-led nonprofits and small businesses. Through her work, she helps to connect these businesses and organizations to resources and opportunities for institutional growth. On some occasions she also consults with small organizations and businesses to address the fundamentals of business management. Being able to help her fellow Latinos and business owners is the fulfilling work she has always been seeking since childhood. 

Almirca leading a workshop. (Photo courtesy Almirca Santiago)

“Helping the Latino community feels like helping my family which I continue to do both professionally and personally,” Almirca says. 

You might be interested: Latinas leaving corporate America and succeeding as entrepreneurs

Her early childhood experiences sent her down one career path, toward entrepreneurship, but these experiences also paved a way for another path to emerge: a path of service work. 

Over the years she has learned the importance of being a quick learner who is able to adapt. These traits have been essential to her career growth and to finding her personal career path to professional fulfillment. 

The unstoppable Latina says she has had moments throughout the years where she would analyze the path she was on, check-in with herself, and make sure the path she was on was the right one for her, even if those around her did not understand her work. 

Now, after almost 15 years, she says, “ I think my family finally understands my work even though I am not in a traditional field or a business owner.” 

Almirca’s story is a reminder to us all that we each have our own paths in life, both professionally and personally. Only you know which path is truly right for you, so always remember: “It is okay to forge and choose the path that fulfills YOU.”