Helen Torres: Giving Latinas HOPE for Political Equality


Helen Torres is the CEO of HOPE — Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, one of the nation's most influential Latino organizations. Helen has been instrumental in the development and implementation of the HOPE Leadership Institute, a program that prepares adult Latinas for the next level of civic participation. HLI has resulted in more than 180 Latinas being appointed to state and local commissions and over 200 Latinas serving on nonprofit boards to improve local communities. To date more than 565 Latinas have graduated from HLI. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation with Helen.

Passionistas: What are you most passionate about?


Helen: I am very passionate about our democracy. And very passionate about creating opportunities for everyone to be a part of this huge social contract and to really, truly define how we can all have the pursuit of happiness. And so I do that through HOPE ensuring that Latinas are part of that equation. Ensuring that Latinas are part of government, non-profits, corporations, businesses, so that we're really creating a place where there's liberty, freedom and justice for all.


Passionistas: Talk more about the work that you do at HOPE. How do you do the things that you just described?


Helen: Everything that we do at HOPE has a civic engagement lens, as well as a financial literacy education lens. And so how we do it, we break it down into three key bucket areas, if you will.


First is around leadership development. And we have leadership programs for high school students, college students, young professionals and Latinas who are already at the executive level. So, from our high school program we ensure those young ladies are already finding and defining what type of leaders they want to be. Engaging them in the political system.


So understanding how they can be advocates around education in their school board. How they can engage their community and position themselves as community leaders. And then the ultimate goal is to ensure that they see a pathway into college. So we have 92% of the young women that go through our program end up being accepted into a college program as well, which is way above the national average.


What we do for our college age Latinas is we give them a civic engagement project. If it's voter registration, if it's getting more people to sign up in their community around the census, and then we give them a format to run a town hall among their peers around a subject area that they decide to tackle.


We give them a lot of professional development around workforce integration. How do you interview for your job during these COVID-19 distanced zone times? How do you position it? You write that resume. How do you review? We do a lot about how they're reviewing their social media and positioning themselves.


And then we connect them with various corporations, business opportunities. So that they can hear from peers in these organizations or role models. So they understand what they can expect when they're going into the workforce. So that's our college program. This college program enrolled over 3,000 people in the census they added outreach for. And so we're really proud of our college program.


Then what we're known for is our HOPE Leadership Institute, the target audience is a Latina that's about 35 years old. She already has to have quite a bit of years of community activism. And this Institute is designed to get the Latina to her next level of civic engagement.


About 10% of them will end up running for office. About half of them will serve on a local or statewide commission and close to 80% will be serving on nonprofits or running nonprofits. So it's really seen that civic engagement taken to another level. And that's a program that we're really proud of as well.


The last program we launched three years ago is the Binational Fellowship where it's for Latinas across the United States and in Mexico who are already at the executive level and are looking to take their leadership at either a national level or international. So we have two sessions with policy experts on trade, workforce development, the future of the two countries and negotiations and political understanding of each other. But also we have a lot of conversations about how to really truly bring best practices around policy to each other as well. That's our leadership development and that's really what we are known for.


To learn more about Hispanics Organized for Political Equality, visit Latinas.org.


Hear Helen’s complete interview here.


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