Money is important, but so is being proud of who you are and giving back to your community.
Those are some of the lessons Denise Verdin, who will graduate from California State University Northridge next year with a degree in Deaf Studies, is learning firsthand through her mentor, former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin.
Verdin, 22, got the chance to talk one-on-one with and be mentored by the woman whose signature appeared on U.S. currency from 2001-2003, as part of the Hispanic 100 Foundation program, which pairs young college students with Latino leaders in a variety of fields.
“The program is a life-changing experience. We have all kinds of support through the Hispanic Foundation,” Verdin said.
For Verdin, having Marin as a mentor is invaluable and has given her insight into what made one of the most successful Latino women in the nation get ahead.
“Having influential, successful people that can help you get ahead gave me the motivation I needed not only to reach my full potential, but to also think about giving back to my community,” she said.
Pride In Her Heritage
“I’m very proud of being Mexican,” said the young woman, who was born in Los Angeles and raised in Arizona.
“I hadn’t realized how influential my community has been,” she added.
Participation in the program has helped direct Verdin, plan her next move when she graduates next May. Having contacts with influential leaders has taught her much about what she can achieve.
“I would like to do something for deaf kids, maybe create a nonprofit that helps them,” Verdin said.
She’s also training at CSUN’s National Center on Deafness, where Verdin — who is a sign language interpreter — coordinates school interpreters and makes sure they get to the classrooms to help deaf or hard of hearing students.
“This way I get to learn both sides of what I want to do in the future,” she said.
She got the job from connections she made through the Hispanic 100 Foundation, a San Clemente-based group established to develop and promote leadership from within and from the Hispanic community. One of the foundation’s programs pairs Latino leaders with 18- to 25-year-old young men and women, providing them with insight, experience and training for future success.
“It’s a one-year commitment where we find out what their desires are. We provide them with internship programs and monthly workshops, and opportunities for them to volunteer,” said Tina Aldatz, co-chair of the Hispanic 100’s Mentor Program.
The monthly workshops help the menthes prepare resumes, and teach them etiquette, business training and financial workshops, everything that they would need “to market and sell themselves,” Aldatz said.
Along the way, Aldatz said, they are trying to do away with some cultural obstacles to achieving success.
“We in the Latino community tend to be very humble. We teach them to be more confident and be competitive,” she said.
Taking Lessons With Them
Aldatz hopes the mentees take these lessons with them when they leave the program, where she sees herself reflected in many of them.
Born in Orange County, CA, Aldatz emancipated at age 15 and, with only a GED, moved to New York where she worked in fashion before founding and inventing Foot Petals, the revolutionary line of designer insole cushions for women’s high heels.
She later sold the company for $14 million. But she never forgot her humble beginnings and that’s why she tries to instill that desire to succeed in the young people she mentors.
Besides the mentoring, the top 10 applicants are awarded $1,000 each at the end of the program, which runs from February to November. Half of the $10,000 came from Disney and is meant only for education purposes; the rest is from private donors and could also be used to start a business.
Many of the mentees, Aldatz notes, are already overachievers who simply need a hand to guide them in the right way to reach their short and long-term goals. Others may need a little more help.
Mentees like Damian, an 18-year-old whose parents passed away and who lives in a group home.
“When he graduated from high school, the only person to attend his graduation was his mentor who provided him with a bicycle to travel to school,” explained Aldatz.
Damian recently had an accident but the Foundation got another bicycle with him.
This “diamond in the rough” acts and speaks as a leader already, Aldatz said and despite the hardships “has so much more confidence” than when he entered the program.
Confidence and direction are paramount in the program.
“When they’re in college, many young people are confused as to what direction they want to go. We help them find their god-giving talents,” Aldatz said. “I see the hunger within them and the Latino pride.”
And along the way, train the next wave of Hispanic leaders.
“We’re raising leaders for the next generation in the Latino community,” Aldatz said.
The Hispanic 100 Foundation is looking for mentors and mentees. For more information, visit www.hispanic100.org.