Latina Leaders of Kern County strives to help local young women create a career plan for those in its Youth Leadership Program. But funding is difficult to obtain.

The group was one of four nonprofit organizations that received a financial boost this week through grant funds from the Women's & Girls' Fund, an initiative of the Kern Community Foundation.

"We look for nonprofit organizations that go above and beyond in promoting education for local women," said Judi McCarthy, founder of the Women's & Girls' Fund, which was created in 2005.

This was the fund's sixth cycle of grants, and organizations serving women or girls and focused on education and training could apply for a total of $25,000.

The Latina organization was awarded $6,250 for its program that promotes college attendance and community engagement among high school girls from across the county in a culturally-relevant way.

Norma Rojas-Mora, the president of Latina Leaders, is grateful because it was the first time the group won the grant.

Rojas-Mora will now be able to cover expenditures the program has to plan for such as the cost of food, transportation to trips and graduation costs.

"The girls commit to a nine-month program and they sit down with leaders of the community that have volunteered and together they brainstorm and create their career plan," Rojas-Mora said.

Girls research colleges among other important life topics such as teen pregnancy, self-confidence and nutrition.

Rojas-Mora recalls a field trip the group took two years ago to University of California Los Angeles where she found out that two high school seniors had been accepted there, but were thinking about not attending because they had never been outside Bakersfield and didn't know how far the university was from home.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Rojas-Mora said. "But at the same time I understood them because Hispanic parents have a tendency of wanting to keep their daughters close to home."

Rojas-Mora learned the importance of holding meetings with parents so they'd know what the program was about and that their input was important to their daughters.

And it's this type of community engagement that McCarthy saw in the Latina Leaders group as well as in other local nonprofits that received money.

"We are happy to fund those organizations that focus on reducing dropout rates for young women because it's important to turn those devastating numbers into positive ones for the future of our community," McCarthy said.

The grant recipients also included:

* Community Action Partnership of Kern, $4,250 for a pre-employment resource program at the Friendship House in southeast Bakersfield.

* Mountain Communities Family Resource Center, $4,250 for a program focusing on single parents and career and financial literacy skills and goal setting.

* Planned Parenthood, $10,000 for a "Bright Futures" project providing intensive help with academic skills to improve high school graduation rates, reduce dropout rates and help people move on to college or job training.