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LATINA Inc. connects and highlights Latina women of Northeast Ohio

By Amanda Bates
Photo by Thomas Skernivitz

Patty Quiñónez would rather not talk about herself. After all, she is just one of many volunteers that keep LATINA Inc. running.

However, as president and director of its trustee board, she’s keen to discuss the opportunities and vision of the nonprofit networking group that has been connecting professional Latinas in the Northeast Ohio area since 2002.

LATINA Inc., which stands for Leading and Advocating Together in New Arenas, is comprised of roughly 500 members, all of whom are professional Latina women.

The group was organized out of a need to connect Latina women in the Cleveland area and provide them with resources for personal and career development. The Latina labor force was becoming increasingly well qualified; between 1996 and 2006 the number of Hispanic/Latina women that earned bachelor’s degrees jumped 222 percent. The number of Latinas that received masters degrees increased by more than 300 percent.

As a networking group, its purpose extends beyond coordinating happy hours and member retreats. LATINA Inc. provides Latinas in Northeast Ohio area real opportunities to expand their career prospects and develop valuable relationships. It is an organization focused on raising awareness of the achievements of local Latinas in all professional fields.

In addition to highlighting Latinas in the community, the organization strives to provide ample opportunities for group members to connect with each other in a culturally and linguistically sensitive setting.

According to Quiñónez, LATINA Inc. consists of women from 21 different Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries. “Many of us have a second language, and being able to communicate with people in your own language provides a different level of comfort with which to share with one another,” she says.

Quiñónez, who is president of the Ameriprise financial advising firm Quiñónez & Associates, first attended LATINA Inc.’s annual symposium as a guest and began volunteering time to the group after that. The educational conference is designed to highlight the accomplishments of professional Latinas. This year’s Oct. 15 event will feature women in executive roles and will be hosted in conjunction with Case Western Reserve University. In past years, the event has highlighted Latinas in public service, art, and education, for example.

The symposium continues to be the organization’s cornerstone event, but LATINA Inc. also hosts less formal networking nights and events throughout the year.

Some of the events are more professionally driven, such as exclusive networking events and leadership development workshops. Others are opportunities for members to embrace an aspect of Latin culture. Past cultural excursions include a reception for the Spanish artist Carmen Ruiz-Davila at MOCA, and a group outing to Palace Theater to watch “In the Heights” with dinner and discussion following.

“It’s really an outlet to share experiences from various fields,” Quiñónez says. “Part of it is to help break those stereotypes.”

Currently members communicate primarily through Facebook and through the LATINA Inc. newsletter, but one of Quiñónez’s immediate priorities is developing a fully interactive website that will expand the group’s audience.

Aside from event coordination, Quiñónez ensures that LATINA Inc.’s board is working toward the benefit of its members and towards its goals. She also is eager for the group to collaborate with other institutions in the Cleveland area.

For instance, as a partner with Cleveland Public Theater, LATINA Inc. was able to offer a special discount to members to “Johanna: Facing Forward,” a play based on the inspiring story of a Cleveland teen.

Membership is open to any Latina in the Northeast Ohio area and costs $50. Full-time students can also join for $20. The organization is self-sustaining and remains supported through donations, memberships, and event registration fees.

A portion of the membership fees go to providing an annual college scholarship through the Esperanza, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing Hispanic education achievement.

The group’s goals reach beyond today and even beyond the community of professional Latinas. Quiñónez envisions LATINA Inc. as a household name, and as a source of leadership for Greater Cleveland’s businesses and organizations.

Quiñónez emphasizes that Greater Cleveland requires a critical mass of creativity, knowledge and skills for continued growth and innovation. LATINA Inc. adds value to Cleveland’s economic atmosphere by encouraging Latinas to live and work in Northeast Ohio and the results are tangible. “Latinas tend to move to areas where there are already established networks of existing Hispanic/Latina women,” she says. “It’s about attracting and retaining talent.”

In a sense, by raising the bar among the Latina population, Quiñónez hopes to raise the standard across the board for Cleveland businesses. Individual members of LATINA Inc. can also look to each other for guidance, inspiration or simply to join forces to make a difference in their community. “We want to spread the word to other professional Latinas that we are here for them,” she says. “We certainly plan on being here a long time.

For more information: facebook.com/LATINAInc

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