A Marshalltown nonprofit that works mentoring young Latinos and Latinas has hired its first salaried employee.
Latinas/Latinos al Exito, a non-profit that works with local schools providing programs to youth, named Dawn Oropeza its executive director effective March 1.
Oropeza holds a master's in fine art from the University of California and is the former arts education/community programs coordinator for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
The group matches successful Latinos and Latinas with middle school students to provide the children with role models who demonstrate the importance of college and culture, Oropeza said. Latinas/Latinos al Exito started in Marshalltown in 2006 and has since branched out to Belmond, Clarion, Des Moines, Perry and South Tama.
Oropeza works out the Des Moines office. She said she will be responsible for writing grants and assessing the programs strengths and weaknesses to improve it. The group tries to pair middle school students with adults who have similar interests.
"Each community kind of alters what they do," she said. "But they all build self-esteem and stress the importance of college."
Latinas/Latinos al Exito is working on a website and logos to help bring its work into the public eye. Oropeza said the group is also offering leadership conferences for the mentors, making the program tier-based.
Ultimately, she said, the group works to show young Latinas and Latinos that there are people like them in leadership positions.
"It's important for them to know there are people out there that support them and want to see them succeed, giving them hope that they can accomplish more," she said.