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This local nonprofit offers free STEM education and professional development to young Latinas

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An organization founded by Wakefield High School alumna is returning to its stomping grounds this September to give back.

Founded in 2004 by Latina students and Wakefield school counselor Madeline LaSalle, Latinas Leading Tomorrow (LLT) offers young women in the D.C. area free camps and programs focused on STEM as well as professional and leadership development.

Fresh from running a STEM summer camp that targeted first-generation Latina middle-schoolers in July, LLT will next offer an after-school program for girls at Yorktown High School, Wakefield and the Arlington Career Center.

“This program focuses on leadership development, mentorship, community service and creating a safe space for the girls that breaks down barriers many of them are facing,” board chair of LLT Rebecca Singhavong said.

Likewise, the summer camp last month also showed Latina girls what they are capable of, dispelling stereotypes about who can pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, Singhavong said. About 70% of campers were first-generation and Hispanic students.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Singhavong. “At LLT, one of the main things we strive to do is break down barriers and stereotypes that Latina girls often grow up hearing, including the idea that STEM fields are only for men.”

Every day, campers participated in activities such as painting flowers, coding and 3D printing. They also met with women who have careers in STEM.

“All our programs are big on having role models, so the girls can see people who they can aspire to be,” Singhavong said.

Singhavong credited Marymount University professor Diane Murphy for her help ensuring this year’s camp was in-person, after it was held virtually for a few years during Covid. The camp was also made possible by a grant from a NASA program, NASA Inspires Futures for Tomorrow’s Youth.

A group of Latinas Leading Tomorrow participants and mentors (courtesy LLT)

In addition to camps and after-school activities, LLT offers a virtual professional development program that teaches personal branding and provides LinkedIn profile training and resume help, Singhavong said. Every LLT program is completely free.

“We are often dealing with families who would normally not have access to programs like ours because of funding concerns or accessibility,” Singhavong said. “Many of our campers came from fairly far distances each day to get to Marymount because their communities do not have any type of program like this.”

Singhavong — who is first-generation herself — said she has only been with LLT for a year, however, the organization has been running multiple programs for young Latina women for over 10 years.

Its mission, she says, is to combat a common stereotype that she has seen and faced herself: one that Hispanic women are meant to be caregivers and not dream of having professional careers.

“We focus on just girls because many Latina women are taught to be caregivers from a young age, but we want them to focus on themselves and what they want to do in their future,” Singhavong said.

A group of Latinas Leading Tomorrow participants (courtesy LLT)

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