Nuestra Comunidad: Local program helps Latinas become entrepreneurs

Ariany Calles’s path to entrepreneurship had some twists and turns in it. Newly arrived in the United States from Venezuela, Calles barely spoke English and even lost out on a job because of the language barrier.

The same day as that job interview, however, Calles discovered a program through the Latin American Association that was specially designed for women interested in becoming business owners. Teary eyed and visibly upset about her failed attempt to secure a job, Calles had a fortuitous encounter with a LAA employee.

“She told me: ‘Cheer up, don’t get down. Come to class, maybe your path is to be an entrepreneur,’” explained Calles.

A wife and mother of two children, Calles took a leap of faith and enrolled in the program, called Avanzando Juntas or the Latinas’ Economic Empowerment Program. Thanks to the workshops and support she received as part of this initiative, Calles is today the proud owner of Art Creating Design and School.

“Beyond designing jewelry, my idea is to train women like me, who perhaps had a bad experience, to be able to earn money from home and help them and show them that it is possible to have a business from home and earn money,” said Calles, who is 38 years old and also an anthropologist.

According to Calles, the LAA’s program teaches participants everything they need to know in order to open and operate a business, with a specialized focus on the particular needs of women who are Latinas and immigrants.

“My experience has been wonderful, because they teach you how to establish your business in the United States, from the accounting and legal perspective of your company, to registering it,” said Calles.

Mónica Cucalón, manager of the Latinas’ Economic Empowerment Program, explained that approximately 300 women have graduated from the program in the two years since its creation.

“I can’t describe with words what it’s like seeing women come to us with the desire to progress and looking for help and then seeing them with that look of happiness on their face and knowing where they’re going, what doors to knock on, which resources to use. It’s such a huge reward,” assured Cucalón.

The eight-week long program, in which women take classes two hours a week, has a clear objective: for Latina women to become self-sufficient. Additionally, some women are eligible to apply for microloans in order to get their businesses off the ground.

Adriana Andrade’s experience was different than that of Calles. When the Mexican native initially began taking classes through Avanzando Juntas, she realized that she was already on the right path in her career.

Andrade, 39 years old, was the owner of an embroidery company called Georgia Stitch, which she began when her children were just infants. When it came time for them to attend school however, and Andrade saw her business coming to a standstill, she contemplated leaving entrepreneurship behind and looking for work elsewhere.

“It helped me a lot to know that this is what I truly wanted to do. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to do it anymore, because I wasn’t seeing my business grow. I was ready to throw in the towel,” explained Andrade.

According to Cucalón, many of the women who take the course have similar stories to Andrade’s experience, rediscovering something that is essential to beginning a new journey toward self-sufficiency: confidence in themselves and in their abilities.

“They tell me that the way in which the program has most helped them is knowing that they can do it, having faith in themselves and knowing that what they have to offer is valuable,” said Cucalón.

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