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Empowering Latina Immigrants to be Successful and Independent

By Taylor Mabrey, Content Manager

Despierta, in English, means “rise up.” For Juliana Lozano and Andrea Mora, that word symbolizes resiliency and empowerment.

In 2020, Lozano and Mora founded Despierta, a Charlotte nonprofit with the goal to empower Latinas by providing a variety of support services that will help individuals thrive and strengthen families.

Despierta is a First Year grantee in the Unite Charlotte initiative, founded in 2016. The initiative provides funding and capacity-building programs to local grassroots organizations advancing racial equity and addressing economic mobility.

Lozano is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate (LCSWA) and Mora is a public health advocate with a master’s degree in public health, and the two found themselves working together through a low-cost community health clinic helping Latina immigrants.

Lozano and Mora realized that due to language barriers, low education levels, poverty, lack of social capital and mistrust of the community, there was a larger lack of knowledge and access to community resources.

“I would collaborate with Andrea to help clients access community resources, however, we kept seeing same issue when we are dealing with clients that are coming to this country and simply providing the resource with no guidance was not helpful,” said Lozano.

“We realized there was a deeper issue, rooted to the trauma women face when coming to this country and lack of exposure to things we take for granted such as establishing a primary care provider. We found that in Charlotte there was not a organization that was centralized on empowering specially Latina women. We saw the correlation between mental health and high risk medical conditions, and the lack of awareness within the Latina community. We found that in Charlotte there wasn’t a resource available that was centralized on empowering women.”

Despierta aims to be that place of empowerment – a place where women can and will acquire the proper tools and skills to become self-sufficient and resilient in the community.

Lozano wanted to create an organization that would educate, empower, and support Latinas by acting as a gateway to community resources, advocating by helping them understand their rights, and spreading awareness on domestic violence and mental health.

Despierta consists of four main programs: Mujer Despierta, Mujer Valiente, Bonita Mama and Bonita Rising. 

Mujer Despierta is the main program and Lozano described as a general information guide – a “welcome to Charlotte” – which helps women with the transportation system, teaches them the importance of establishing a primary care doctor and taking care of their women’s health, connects them with legal aid if needed and more.

Mujer Valiente was created to help women who have experienced or are currently experiencing domestic violence. As a survivor, Lozano found it important to advocate and bring awareness to this issue and empower women through education, legal resources, therapy, support groups and other resources.

Bonita Mama is focused on supporting teen moms, providing family planning information, child development education, prenatal and postpartum education and other community information.

Bonita Rising is still being developed fully, but it is for first generation Latinas in this country, which is personal for Lozano and Mora as they are first generation as well. This program will serve Latinas ages 13 to 17 to help them find their identity and self-worth, and will provide counseling, women’s health education, mental health awareness, domestic violence awareness and other important information that Latina teens face when carrying the responsibility of being first generation.

Despierta launched in January 2021, so Lozano and Mora are still learning the ins and outs of the nonprofit world. As a Unite Charlotte First Year, they were able to participate in the Duke Nonprofit Management Program.

“I didn’t know anything about nonprofit management and the Duke Nonprofit Management Program helped expand my knowledge,” said Lozano. “United Way is so awesome to put us in that class. They equipped us with the tools that we needed so we can continue to grow.”  

The funding has been a game changer for Despierta. After dipping into their own pockets to get the organization started, Lozano and Mora were able to get administrative work organized and hire their first employee to help with client intake and help enhance their marketing.

The funding will also help host events and expand their programming.

“United Way funding gave us hope because we have the passion, you know, it’s in us, it’s in our hearts, but when you don’t have the funding it makes you think ‘we should just take a break,’” said Lozano, “it’s very helpful to be able to take this nonprofit to the next level and serve more people.”  

Lozano and Mora want to see growth this year for Despierta. A few of the goals are to have a permanent space for the organization, hire more staff so they are able to serve more people and fully launch the Bonita Mama and Bonita Rising programs. Despierta plans to launch cohorts for each program with the ultimate goal of creating a supportive community and raising awareness for mental health and domestic violence.