Did you know that the Community Affairs & Grassroots team at Southwest Airlines has partnerships with more than 500 nonprofits nationwide? In an effort to highlight the amazing work of our partners, we’re pleased to introduce our new Q&A series, The Southwest 5. Our first Southwest 5 features MANA de San Diego Executive Director Sofia Salgado. Having been involved with the nonprofit for more than 20 years, Salgado has watched the nonprofit, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, grow from the ground up. We spoke with her about the organization’s future, why Southwest Airlines’ support is a game changer, and which of MANA de San Diego’s programs is her favorite.
What kind of work does the organization do?
The organization was started by a group of women concerned with the dropout rate of Latinas. In 1987, we started our first Hermanitas (Little Sisters) program. We’ve gone from serving 12 girls to 60 today. In 2006, we began tracking the success rates of our girls that have gone to college. One hundred percent of our Hermanitas have gone on to pursue higher education.
What’s unique about MANA is that we support Latinas at all stages of their lives. We start with girls in middle school and work with women in college and women who are already professionals.
Why did MANA decide to focus just on women and girls?
It was the high dropout rate. We’ve had requests to expand to serving men and boys, but I think with the resources we have, we want to do a really good job, so we’ve stuck with women and girls. What’s interesting is that over the past few years, we’ve had men join us because they believe in the mission. They believe that women do take the lead when it comes to change in their community. Our programs focus on Latinas, but we do recruit mentors who aren’t Latinas that believe in our cause.
Is there a particular program that you’re most proud of?
The Hermanitas. That’s the one that tugs at your heart strings. These girls come in when they’re in 7th grade and are so shy and soft spoken. We encourage them to do public speaking, presentations and how to talk to adults. By the time they’re juniors or seniors, they’ve blossomed. That makes it all worthwhile. We were chosen as a “Bright Spot” in Hispanic education by the White House. I think our program works and people are noticing that we get results and make a difference.
What impact has Southwest Airlines had on the work of the organization?
Southwest Airlines legitimizes us. We’re a smaller nonprofit, but when Southwest is supporting us, it’s huge. What Southwest does is make us become more creative with our programming. We came up with opportunities for Latinas to travel to a conference. They have to tell us how it will help them personally, professionally, and with MANA. They come back and share their experiences and it helps us get the word out.
The biggest part is Southwest providing tickets for our Hermanitas who are juniors to visit colleges. It’s cool that Southwest offers that opportunity to our girls. That says to them “If you dream about it, we can make it a reality.”
What are you all looking to do in 2017 and beyond?
We’ve just scratched the surface. I’d love to see our members get involved with other boards. Being at the table, making decisions and are well prepared because of their time with us. I’d also like to see us provide more support to our girls once they’re in college.