On Latina Equal Pay Day in 2021, Gov. Kathy Hochul introduced the Latina Mentoring Initative. Its goal is to inspire young Latina girls with mentorship and celebrate their heritage. A high school in Syracuse has an LMI group that meets once a week to do different activities.

“They give you opportunities to grow yourself as a person," said Miranda Velez, a Latina in PSLA at Fowler's Latina Mentoring Initiative group.

She says it's allowed her to be more open with people and show her personality. Throughout her life, she says she has struggled with that.

“I used to be known as the shy, to herself, nerdy girl," said Velez. "Nobody knew anything about me.”

One day, the group wrote letters to their future selves. Velez says hers is about growing from the past. What that means to her is continuing to overcome her shyness. The person that helps with that is her mentor who she calls B. She wasn’t there for that meeting, but Velez says she has been able to help her be more comfortable because of the strong connection they have.

“I feel like she’s someone I can relate to," she said. "We do other open projects like this where we have to talk about who we are as a person. When you relate to somebody, that’s a good thing, you’re going to get closer to them.”

That is exactly what this program is about. Fanny Villarreal introduced it to this school. She is a LMI committee member. Every girl in the group is paired with a Latina mentor who she works with when the group meets. Villarreal believes it’s very important to show young Latinas that women they can relate to are in leadership positions.

“I think it's a great opportunity for our young Latinas to see other Latinas have a lot of different professions," said Villarreal. "We are lawyers, we are educators, we are business owners, we are in politics [and] we are everywhere.”

The LMI group has been meeting every week for over a year. The responses from students have been infectious.

"For them to see us here, next to them, it's like wow!" she said. "Once you start talking and telling them about your life they’re like, 'really?! Tell me more!' ”

Velez says this group has helped her realize that she isn’t alone. When she reads her letter in the future, Velez hopes she can look back and see her growth.

“And I want it to be like this new person," said Velez. "Open [and] confident."