Provo nonprofit 'Ella Rises' works to empower young Latinas

Aimee Maciel paints a design on a shirt as she participates in the Ella Rises Summer Summit in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. Ella Rises works with Latina youth to continue their education and preserve their cultural heritage.

Aimee Maciel paints a design on a shirt as she participates in the Ella Rises Summer Summit in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. Ella Rises works with Latina youth to continue their education and preserve their cultural heritage. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)


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PROVO — A Latina-focused nonprofit has nearly doubled its reach in just under two years.

Ella Rises, meaning "she rises," is a free mentoring program for Latina youth based in Provo. It has grown from a monthlong program with 75 girls in October 2020 to a program serving 145 girls throughout the school year.

"For all girls, for all teenagers, these years are crazy. They're trying to figure out who they are," Ella Rises director Claudia Barillas said. "But as Latina girls — a lot of them are first or second generation — it's even harder. They're navigating the school system on their own, and a lot of the parents in our community don't speak English, and so they can't really help our girls."

The program, which was originally focused solely on art workshops taught by Latina artists and inspired by Latino culture, has expanded to include STEM, mental health and mariachi workshops, as well as guest lectures and college campus visits. Barillas said all the additions have been based on feedback from participants about their individual needs and struggles.

The organization had its summer summit earlier this week to kick off the school year and will hold weekly workshops each Monday from 5-8:30 p.m. Girls are welcome to join at any time and are welcome to decide which of the workshops they're interested in. More information, including how to register, is available at EllaRises.org.

The hope is to bridge the gap between elementary school and middle school, and eventually middle school and high school.

"We saw a need in our community for girls to identify who they are really, to reconnect with their roots and see where they fit into the community," Barillas said.

Barillas has seen the same need among Latino boys firsthand as a social worker with the Provo School District. Although there's been a large jump in Utah County's Latino population in Utah County, she said there have also been increases in teenage pregnancy and high school dropouts among Latino kids. But right now, the nonprofit doesn't have the resources to serve the male population.

"We just needed to start somewhere. ... It all comes down to funding," Barillas said. "If we keep writing grants and asking and connecting with people, we hope that pretty soon we'll be able to offer to our Latino kids and to any other students of color."

Those who are able to participate in Ella Rises have experienced positive change through the program, Barillas said. One girl, in particular, was "in a dark space and really down" due to struggling with low self-esteem when she first attended Ella Rises in 2020. Barillas said the girl is "smiling more" and now talks and interacts with the other participants.

"Like her story, there are other girls that we've seen the change physically in them," Barillas added. "Their attitude is different. They're getting some direction and hopefully some light in their life."

Ella Rises participant Indrid Jaime moved to Utah from Monterrey, Mexico, about three years ago. Jaime, 16, is in her third year of the program. She said she's enjoyed making new friends and interacting with the Latina mentors.

"I've been able to inspire myself," Jaime said, adding that the program has helped her feel more prepared for college. "Even though there's all these things in life that just stop you, you can still do it and you can work a way around it."

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Sydnee Gonzalez is a multicultural reporter for KSL.com covering the diversity of Utah's people and communities. Se habla español. You can find Sydnee at @sydnee_gonzalez on Twitter.

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