In 1997 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Two years later, sitting in a meeting with individuals from nonprofits and agencies in southern Arizona, Velia Leybas Nuño, PhD, MSW, learned that the Latinx community had the highest percentage of pregnant adolescents.
“After that meeting, we decided that as a community we should be doing something about it,” she said.
Dr. Nuño, assistant professor of practice and program director for the Bachelor of Arts in Wellness and Health Promotion Practice program at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, worked with several other community members including a community liaison for Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Arizona), to form a grassroots steering committee called “Adelante, Nuestro Futuro,” meaning “Onward With Our Future.” The original steering committee included representatives from SAAF, Child and Family Resources, Arizona State University School of Social Work, the League of Mexican American Women and Congressman Pastor’s office.
The group organized and held its first conference by the same name in 1999. The free conference was geared toward middle school Latinx girls and their mothers, female guardians or role models. The day included workshops and activities about health and education. Workshops addressed leading healthy lifestyles, building self-esteem and self-confidence, post-secondary education options, and career advice from professional women.
“Over time, we were able to get more funding – we never had a lot, but it was always a reasonable amount,” Dr. Nuño said. “We had a tremendous amount of support from our steering committee. Some of our steering committee members were mentored by other steering committee members, and we were creating this network of powerful women who were helping each other as well as working with the young people who were coming to the conference.”
Adelante, Nuestro Futuro ran from 1999 to 2010. The conference was restarted in March thanks in large part to Josefina Ahumada, MSW, a retired social worker, active community advocate and Dr. Nuño’s former ASU social work professor. Ahumada, who was an Adelante, Nuestro Futuro steering committee member from 2000 to 2010, now leads the steering committee.
“The Adelante, Nuestro Futuro conference provides a learning environment for Latine moms and daughters to explore educational and career opportunities,” said Ahumada, who uses the gender-neutral term Latine. “It offers a place where conference attendees can share with one another their stories and achievements. It is an opportunity for growing one’s own self-confidence and sense of empowerment. As a 70-plus-year-old Latine woman, the conference has given me the opportunity to share what I have learned over the years and to encourage women and girls to be the spirit of ‘si se puede’ (‘yes we can’). Yes, there will be economic and racial barriers that will confront our families, that will stifle dreams, but these barriers can be drawn down. Knowing who you are and where you come from gives one the courage to face formidable challenges.
“The conference brings from across the city of Tucson, Latine women who share their life and work experiences that serve to inspire,” Ahumada added. “The mothers who attend the conference are themselves role models who demonstrate the power of being a Latine woman.”
Hosted in the Zuckerman College of Public Health, the March conference offered workshops for 40 sixth to ninth grade Latinx girls on prioritizing their physical and mental health during the pandemic, pursuing higher education, and learning about career options. Caregivers attended concurrent workshops hosted by social workers on mental health and understanding a child’s mental health.
In addition to the workshops, the conference sought to inspire pride in Latin culture by featuring a mariachi band during breakfast and a folklorico performance at lunch. Attendees were treated to swag and gift cards for participating in the workshops.
“Part of the intention behind the swag is to show the attendees that we see them, they are important enough to deserve gift cards to buy something for themselves and they matter to us,” Dr. Nuño said . “We get our value in different ways. We were intentional about the delicious food served, the lively, cultural entertainment and the university setting. All of it was meant to show them they matter.”
The college will host the next conference, which is planned for April 2023.