Fostering leadership and developing opportunities are a few core components the Latina Leaders of Kern County focuses on to help women achieve their goals for the future.

Latina Leaders of Kern County President Gabriela Gonzales said the organization helps women foster and flourish in leadership within the community while also playing a role in key issues.

“There are so many issues that affect our community and our women. Part of our mission is to make sure we’re in the know of what’s going on so our women can be informed and play an active role to create change that occurs at the youth and adult level,” said Gonzales.

Latina Leaders of Kern County Vice President January Lau said she and the rest of the board members look at how they can bring their mission to light.

“We want to be able to bring opportunities because some women don’t have the resources to get where they need or want. It also creates a safe space for our women with no judgment while building a network as well. Even though networking is not a part of our mission statement, we are all connected with each other,” said Lau.

Both Gonzales and Lau started their journey with the organization as mentors for their student youth leadership program, where high school girls are recruited and are taught self-esteem, career opportunities and personal development through a nine-month program.

“This organization has made a dramatic change for me. I’m very passionate about it. I was one of those women who had self-doubt. I needed somewhere to connect, so I gave back to the community by being a mentor and it really empowered me to recognize my leadership potential within my community and network,” said Lau. “I’ve always been a strong advocate for my family and friends but didn’t realize my personal story would ever make an impact on other people. I’m very grateful for that.”

Within the youth leadership program, mentors help young girls break through barriers and learn how to accomplish their personal and professional goals.

“A lot of our topics center around what they’re going through. We talk about racism and immigration, but every year it changes depending on what’s happening around the community. The number one thing we teach them is believing in yourself and accomplishing your goals,” said Gonzales.

Gonzales said the program starts in October and the girls under mentorship are expected to graduate in May.

“A lot of these women go through this program, go to college and come back to give back and serve for us — that’s full circle,” said Gonzales.

Latina Leaders of Kern County also serves adult women through its Latina Leadership Institute.

“We’re targeting adult women that come in at 21 years old and finish college and don’t know where to go,” Lau said. “They need that professional development. We have a lot of women who relocate and they need a place to connect. We’re there to help them.”

While trying to stay active within their community, Latina Leaders of Kern County also finds ways to branch out to other parts of Kern County by being involved in the annual Women’s March, working with Magdalene Hope by putting together care packages to help women get out of human trafficking and taking part in clothing and food drives for the community.

The nonprofit organization is volunteer-based, where all of its members mentor and raise funds during their free time. With the coronavirus pandemic, Gonzales said it’s been a tough year for the organization because many of their fundraisers have been canceled.

“We’re so used to being hands-on. Because they are 100 percent volunteer-based, we lost a large percentage of funding. Without having our fundraising, we don’t have the support, but we want to be stronger, better and have a large impact. We’ll get through it,” said Gonzales.

Lau said the organization is growing more every year and welcomes every kind of Latina to join their community.

“When people think of Latina, they think of ‘Mexican.’ I am Chinese as well but I do identify as a Latina because my mom is Latina. There are Afro-Latinas, Caucasian Latinas and South American Latinas,” said Lau.

Both Gonzales and Lau want women to take part in their organization to talk about issues and break social barriers that keep them from moving forward.

“We’re trying to be the women that we would’ve thought we needed when we were their age,” said Lau. “This completely changed my life and opened my eyes.”

Gonzales wants Latina women to take more chances and reach more women to join their organization and advocate for one another.

“If there’s a Latina out there, I hope that she takes the chance and believes in herself. Even though we might not know her, we’re rooting for her,” Gonzales said. “We want to see our women thrive in this county.”