Out of the 50 people from all over Texas attending an EarthShare workshop in Cedar Creek on Friday, Erica Solis, a development programs specialist for the Nature Conservancy of Texas, was the only Latina in attendance. New to her “dream job,” however, Solis said there was a time when she would not have felt comfortable representing herself and her community within that group.

That was before she attended the Latina Leadership Institute of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“I would have come up with ton of reasons why I was not qualified,” Solis said. “Now I know I can learn to do the things I need to do, and I may already actually be able to do [those] things. But a lot of the times there’s doubt, not having seen other Latina faces doing them, and it just instantly changed that perspective.

Erica Solis.

“Now I am eager to get into these spaces … A lot of these people may not see things the way I see them, and that’s part of the exchange and dialogue, and the Institute helps us be ready to have that dialogue and be ready to engage.”

Twenty-five million Latinas like Solis live in the United States, but only 109 of the 8,236 seats in state and national political offices are held by Latinas. In the U.S. House of Representatives, women hold only 79 of the 435 seats, and just nine of those women are Latina.

The Hispanic Chamber is working to change that.

Founded in 2015, the Latina Leadership Institute is a nonpartisan, issue-neutral program. Its mission is to build upon the skills, knowledge, and abilities to engage in the process of pursuing elected-office positions as well as federal, state, and local appointment positions on boards and commissions.

The Chamber is accepting applications for the Institute’s third year through Oct. 15.

Former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade serves on the steering committee for the program and encourages all women looking to learn more about public service to apply.

“We have stood on the shoulders of strong Latina women who have broken many barriers,” Andrade stated. “We were encouraged, empowered, and emboldened – We have a responsibility to do the same for the young women of our community.”

This year’s program will feature classes taught by expert community leaders who have experience in policy, civic engagement, and boards and commissions. Topics include leadership coaching, women and politics, closing the existing delta, how to run for office and win, life after public office, federal, state and local nonprofit and for-profit boards, becoming familiar with and mastering Robert’s Rules of Order, speaking to the media, and coalition building.

Jaymie Mangelsdorf, senior executive director for governmental relations for UT Health San Antonio, chairs the Institute. She also serves on the Hispanic Chamber board of directors and is a graduate of the Latina Leadership Institute inaugural class.

“As chair, my goal for the Latina Leadership Institute is to improve and enhance the role of Latinas in two key areas as it relates to our mission: to provide a pool of knowledge to those with a desire to run and win an elected seat and to provide the skills and access in seeking appointed positions,” Mangelsdorf stated.

“Women in politics will only improve the electoral environment, and women serving on high profile boards and commissions will adequately represent the demographics of this city, the state, and our nation.”

Steering committee members of the program include Andrade, community activist Rosie Castro, H-E-B Director of Customer Insights Erika Prosper, President of the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council Cecilia Elizondo Herrera, and political fundraiser Norma Denham.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg has been a longtime supporter of the program.

“The Latina Leadership Institute is addressing a clear need. Latinas are underrepresented in appointed and elected public office, and the Institute is ensuring that more Latinas are prepared to take on leading roles in public service,” Nirenberg stated. “The six-month program is nurturing a culture of civic engagement, and no issue is more important to the health of our democracy than civic engagement.”

Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos looks forward to receiving the third cohort of applicants.

“We need more women in public service positions,” Cavazos stated. “We are proud to present such a unique and much-needed program for our community.”

Applicants must show evidence of a sincere interest in civic engagement; demonstrate commitment to improving the community; have a desire to increase their service to the community through key political positions, and present a clear vision and desire to run for office, sit on boards and explore national appointed positions.

The six-month program begins with a welcome reception on Jan. 11, 2018, and meets one full day per month until graduation Aug. 17. Attendance is mandatory for all sessions.

Tuition is $650 and the application deadline is Oct. 15. To apply, click here.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.