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Latino Leadership Institute on the move
Photo courtesy: La Voz Photo

By James Mejía

Now in their third year of operation, the Latino Leadership Institute is gaining steam as the place to be for new Latino talent. Since opening their doors in 2015 three cohorts have gone through the program to acquire leadership qualities based on a foundation of strong cultural identity. This is a leadership program by Latinos for Latinos and about Latinos, and proudly so. The brainchild of founding (and funding) board members, Federico Peña, Tim Márquez, and Marco Abarca, the Latino Leadership Institute is housed on the University of Denver campus in a move that gives the University direct ties to the Latino community from an increasingly important program.

This year 41 fellows have accepted the challenge to attend classes Friday night and all day Saturday, once a month. Class content ranges from board member training to networking and public speaking to cultural awareness. Author and facilitator, Elizabeth Suárez, teaches a negotiation class, “Negotiation is not only about work, it’s also about life negotiation. We are Latinos, how do we continue to grow to be the leaders that we are? How do we do this with opposing views?”

Suárez has each fellow read about negotiation and take a conflict resolution assessment before class. “Once people know their bargaining style and the five ways people deal with conflict… you learn which style is better than another on different occasions.”

She stays in touch with multiple alumni and has coached and mentored a few. She was honored to have been included in an alumni cohort invitation to an after-hours get together. “This program is important because it is giving Latinos the tools they need to learn new things... It expands their network, gives them access to high level Latinos, and provides learning resources for different topics.”

Alumnus Alejandra Spray is the first LLI fellow to earn a corporate board seat. She earned her term on the Bellco Credit Union board after prepping through LLI ‘boards and commissions’ training which she credits for opening her eyes to board opportunities.

Spray also appreciated the session on personality testing and the positive impact it had at work, “My boss is completely opposite my communication style. Knowing he has a different way of listening has helped with communication.”

Spray is a native of Guadalajara and came to Denver in 1999. As a trained Civil Engineer, she found it hard to find work in her field for years but has since become a key player for AMI Mechanical and is serving as the President of the Board for the Hispanic Contractors of Colorado for 2017 and 2018.

Former Fellow, Stella Peterson has also taken on board membership post LLI training. She is the only woman and only Latina on the State Lottery Board, a position appointed by the Governor. “A few years ago I would have said I’m not sure I’m what they need, I can now say confidently, ‘I’m exactly what they need,” concludes Peterson. She also serves on the Latinas First Foundation and Children’s Museum boards.

In the inaugural class of 2015, Peterson gained a “Cultural lens of leadership, exactly what I needed… With any culture, it is important to understand your history and legacy. I think that was the biggest takeaway for me.” She also learned she could assume more risk. “Halfway through LLI, I opened a new office. I found it hard to take risks and as a minority I feel you don’t have chances to make mistakes… I am way better off today, making more money and my personal statement in the community.” A marketing guru, Peterson heads Stella PR+ Marketing, LLC.

A highlight of the 9-month leadership program is access to Latinos at the top of their games like those comprising the member board: attorney and Ready Foods owner, Marco Abarca, former Chief of Staff to Denver Mayor Federico Peña and Director of the Office of Personnel Management under Obama, Katherine Archuleta, educator and former Deputy Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, Dr. Patricia Baca, Executive Chairman and co-founder of the Timothy and Bernadette Márquez Foundation, Tim Márquez, former Mayor of Denver and Secretary of Energy and Transportation, Federico Peña, public affairs specialist and CEO of CRL, Maria Garcia Berry, and Ex-Oficio board member and DU Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, Gregg Kvistad, Mariano Delle Donne, CEO of Adventos Corporation, and Sandi Mays, EVP & CIO of Zayo Group.

Board member Federico Peña was inducted into the Colorado Latino Hall of Fame last October alongside Denver businessman Rod Tafoya, Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent, Susana Cordova, the Salazar Family Foundation, and nationally recognized running coach Dr. Joe Vigil. This year, businessman, philanthropist and former Chairman of the Board for the Denver and U.S. Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Ron Montoya, was inducted and recognized with the Community Service and Philanthropy Award.

Longmont resident and Costa Rica native, José Beteta appreciated, “Continuously being exposed to Latino leaders in high ranks throughout Colorado.” While going through LLI training, Beteta became co-chair of the Minority Business Advisory Council for the State of Colorado by Governor appointment. He serves on that board with fellow alum, Alejandra Spray.

Beteta found it challenging to attend every class in 2016. He had a one-year-old baby at the time and came to Denver on Friday and Saturday once a month. “My wife deserves a lot of credit, being there for me.”

Beteta’s takeaways include education in Latino culture and history. He says that grounding in culture, “Gives you a different sense of purpose moving forward, you absorb the rest of the program with a different level of maturity.” He appreciates that unlike many leadership programs, LLI “Focused on teaching actual skills, the actual education was really valuable.”

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the program came during a brainstorming session about how fellows could make an impact in their communities. Beteta was lamenting the lack of people of color involved in the craft brewing industry and soon the idea for Raices Brewing Company was born. Beteta is on the verge of deciding on a site for the company and opening to the public in less than a year.

The Raices Brewing Company focuses “… on providing high quality beers with the added value of being owned and produced by Latinos in Colorado.” He promised to name the brewery’s first Indian Pale Ale, LLIPA, in honor of the institute.

Beteta was undocumented when he first came to the country at the age of 12. In the next two months, he should have his Green Card.

For Executive Director, Joelle Martínez, LLI is all about the future. This year LLI will begin “…to partner with research institutions to inform companies as to why there is value in diversity. We will also hold leadership seminars to train executives and management with some of the same kind of information that our fellows are receiving. Finally, we plan on organizing public symposia on key issues. Our fellows are experts and this will provide a platform to give back and bring the community into our work.”

Martínez reports that 70 percent of LLI alumni go on to get promotions and raises, and 40 percent have gone on to serve on new boards. She concludes, “We live in extraordinary times especially with the rhetoric out there today. But I believe we have everything to be hopeful for. This next generation… they have it all to make a difference.”





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