Chica Project, a local nonprofit dedicated to closing the opportunity divide for Latinas and women of color, was recognized by the Michelle Obama Foundation.
About 15 students from Lynn’s KIPP Academy High School get to join 25 of their fellow Chica Project members at Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” book tour on Saturday. The non-profit, based out of Boston, was one of four organizations in the commonwealth selected to attend the TD Garden event for free.
“Getting that call was very exciting and surreal,” said Erika Rodriguez, Chica Project’s interim executive director. “It was a moment to reflect on all the work we have done as an organization.”
The non-profit found out about the invitation a month and a half ago, after an anonymous person nominated them for the honor, said Rodriguez. A representative from the former First Lady’s office reached out to Rodriguez and said they recognized the work being done by Chica Project and how it is impacting its surrounding communities, she said.
The varied groups of young women found out they were going to meet their idol after Rodriguez told them, with a camera recording right behind her, she said. The Michelle Obama Foundation asked Chica Project to take one of their videos and post it to YouTube.
“I think this is an opportunity where we could potentially go national,” said Rodriguez. “We have had many people ask us when we are coming to New York or Miami and I think this is the start of the vision for that. This is opening up the doors for us to receive more funding, because part of the non-profit struggle is getting funding.”
Rodriguez said their goal is to empower young Latinas and women of color with the skills, confidence, and networks necessary to thrive, personally and professionally. The project also connects its 120 young participants with a network of multicultural women professionals, creating an intergenerational pipeline, she said.
Chica Project offers three programs: the Empowerment Institute, a 10-month school-based program for sophomores, juniors, and seniors at KIPP Academy Lynn, Cathedral High School in Boston, and Lawrence High School; UWander, a service-oriented international trip that serves 300 youth in the Dominican Republic while utilizing two adopted Santo Domingo schools; and Queens Rise, their flagship program, which is seven symposium-style Sunday Seminars that focus on leadership development and cultural identity exploration through group mentoring for young women ages 14 to 18.
Florida native Nurys Camargo founded the project in 2011, with a full-time job and only a handful of volunteers, according to their website. Its initial purpose was to be a mentoring program that traveled to Springfield, Holyoke and Boston.
Seven years later, Chica Project has grown from a grassroots organization to finally being in a position to standardize itself with two full-time employees, including Rodriguez, two part-time employees, 30 volunteer mentors, and about 12 adult participants that help run workshops in the Dominican Republic, she said.
Rodriguez said she, and her Chica Project team, believe in a future where every young woman of color has access to the education, experiences, and guidance required to realize her true potential.
“This opportunity is taking Chica Project in the direction we always envisioned it going,” said Rodriguez.