Author’s Note: I’ve been an active member of The Junior League since 2004 but will soon “retire” and become a sustaining member. Not only will I take a back seat in my own League, but my three-year term as Board of Director for The Association of Junior Leagues International or what is known as, “The Big Board,” ends on May 31, 2019. It’s been a very long journey with a lot of hard work and tasks which felt thankless at times. However, I’m grateful for many #Firestarters I’ve met along the way. In honor of their dedication to empower women, I share their stories with you.
How Con Mi MADRE Beat the Odds
#Firestarter Sandy Alcalá looks back on launching a nonprofit during the Great Recession
Today, Con Mi MADRE is an established nonprofit serving young Latinas and their mothers in Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth.
Just on their own, the organization’s accomplishments are pretty amazing. It serves more than 900 girls and their mothers every year. Of the high school seniors in the program, 100 percent graduate, and 77 percent enroll in post-secondary education.
But that track record becomes even more impressive when you consider that Con Mi MADRE was launched as an independent organization right in the middle of the Great Recession of 2008.
Con Mi MADRE survived against the odds thanks to some fierce #Firestarters, including one I’ve already introduced to you: Sandy Alcalá, Con Mi Madre’s co-founder, founding executive director and president of the founding board of directors. I’ve shared with you how Sandy’s lifelong drive to give back led her to become the first woman of color to serve as president of The Junior League of Austin. The creation of Con Mi MADRE is another part of Sandy’s fascinating story.
Changing the Story for Young Latinas
The roots of Con Mi MADRE go back to the Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program, which the JLA started in 1992. The program was a response to a state demographer’s research showing that, back then, a Latina baby girl had less than a 1% chance of getting a college education someday. At first, the program worked with Latinas in sixth grade and their moms to encourage the girls to stay in school and to seek post-secondary education. As the program grew, it added more grade levels.
When Sandy joined The Junior League, she learned out about the program and was impressed with how it reduced barriers for moms to get involved with their daughters’ education. When she got the chance to choose how to commit her volunteer hours, she picked this program.
As the program grew more and more, JLA began looking at spinning it off as an independent organization. Sandy decided to make this her focus for the next year. She thought she would be recruiting the organization’s board and searching for an executive director. But what ended up happening was far different.
Fighting to Survive
That brings us back to the Great Recession of 2008. Just as Con Mi MADRE was emerging as its own organization, the global economy was thrown into upheaval. And that affected the cash flow going into the new nonprofit. Foundations delayed their grant awards that had been earmarked to help with transition and operation expenses.
The stakes were high, and Sandy feared for the future of the program that had helped so many people and that meant so much to her.
“This cannot fold on my watch,” she remembers thinking.
With only a small staff, Con Mi MADRE struggled to stay afloat. Since they were in survival mode, there was no time to search for an executive director. So Sandy stepped in and hit the ground running to raise money. She started the Corazón Awards as a way to generate unrestricted funding. Sandy used a personal credit card to pay for the awards, getting reimbursed only later. Like cash, sleep was in short supply for her.
But Sandy’s faith never wavered. Growing up in her family business prepared her well for sticking it out when things got tough.
And that faith paid off. Con Mi MADRE was awarded a Neighborhood Builders grant from Bank of America. Sandy says it was like winning the lottery after living paycheck to paycheck. With the infusion of cash, she could begin in earnest making her vision for Con Mi MADRE a reality. She served as executive director until 2013 and returned part-time in 2015 as director of donor relations and development.
As Sandy worked to help other mothers, she also found herself stepping back into a parental role. Her nephew, who’s now a graduating senior, moved to Austin to live with Sandy and her husband after elementary school. Previously, he had lived with Sandy’s in-laws after his mother lost her battle with breast cancer and his father suffered depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues after her death, eventually becoming incarcerated. His arrival, Sandy says, was a sign from the universe to shift gears. And while it was a little daunting to think about going through the junior high and high school years again, Sandy is never one to shrink from a challenge. Today, her nephew is thriving and preparing to head for college.
The organization Sandy raised is also thriving. Sandy is proud of the impact that Con Mi MADRE has in keeping Austin a vibrant, innovative and educated city. Now in their 10th year, the awards have come a long way from their simple beginnings. and the organization has grown to be a major player in the Central Texas non profit community. It’s proof that League and Latina leaders turn moments into movements everyday.
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