Adelante Mujeres Celebrating 10 Years: Part 7 of 10

Written by Kati Mayfield

Maria Sandoval, 12, and Briana Larios, 11, prove that great ambition comes in small and soft-spoken packages.

With great poise the girls, or chicas in Spanish, describe their stories of finding self confidence and social grace through a local youth development program called Adelante Chicas.

Through the Adelante Chicas program, part of local non-profit Adelante Mujeres, Maria and Briana participate in after-school groups with other girls their age and learn about topics ranging from self-esteem to financial literacy to college prep.

With a staff of three and a legion of committed volunteers, Adelante Chicas runs in six sites in the Forest Grove school district and one in Hillsboro, serving over 250 girls, ages 8 to 18, each year.

During the school year, Adelante Chicas holds one after school group at every school site per week and takes the girls on educational excursions on the weekends. During the summer Adelante Chicas runs a six-week soccer academy and three week-long summer camps where the girls learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); healthy lifestyles; and cultural arts.

Maria, who is going into seventh grade at Neil Armstrong Middle School, and Briana, who is going into sixth grade at Tom McCall Upper Elementary School, both joined Adelante Chicas as quiet third graders.

Maria was the pioneering third-grader who joined Adelante Chicas when it was only offered to girls in fourth grade and up. The summer before her third grade year Maria tagged along to Chicas summer camps with her older sister, Monica. Fascinated by a unit on community health and wellness, Maria didn’t want the experience to end with the summer, so she persuaded the Adelante Chicas staff to let her join the program. Staff members conceded because they were impressed by Maria’s dedication to the activities and to her peers.

Briana, one year younger, benefitted from Maria’s legacy the next year when Adelante Chicas staff decided to open the program to all third graders. Briana says that, though she was very studious, she was too shy to raise her hand in class or participate in extra-curricular activities. But when she heard that Adelante Chicas was just “for Latina girls like me,” she joined the group at Echo Shaw Elementary School. What she found was an all-Latina group of girls her age and program facilitators who created a safe and supportive environment for her to explore her ideas and identity.

The foundation of the group is the “girls circle,” where the girls discuss their ups and downs and address a different theme each week. Each girl gets a chance to speak in the circle, which helps them gain confidence about expressing themselves and addressing an audience.

Briana says, and her mother confirms, that whereas before she was reluctant to say anything in a group or at home, she now can articulate her opinions on everything from her favorite pop star to her greatest ambitions.

Maria has taken from Adelante Chicas the desire to help others and take care of the environment. Participating in annual camping trips and volunteer excursions to local wetlands, she has gotten exposure to the region’s incredible natural resources and become determined to protect them.

Maria and Briana have made the most out of every Adelante Chicas activity. Through the Adelante Chicas Journey to College initiative, Maria and Briana have toured local colleges and universities and learned about career tracks and how to get scholarships. And, they have committed to giving back to the community, thanks to the great role models they have in Adelante Chicas staff and volunteers.

In 10 years, both girls say they envision themselves attending college and volunteering with a program like Adelante Chicas, helping other Latina girls become more social and break out of their shells.

Leticia Aguilar, the Adelante Chicas elementary school facilitator, beams with pride over all her chicas, particularly when they express their dreams about what they want to be when they grow up.

Maria aspires to be an immigration lawyer, and Briana says with determination that she plans to be a doctor — a pediatrician, to be exact.

Meet Maria Sandoval, J.D., and Briana Larios, M.D. They may not have earned those credentials quite yet, but they are certainly on their way.