shebelieves ambassador spotlight - esperanza united
nallely castro montoya
Full Name & Organization:
Nallely Castro Montoya, Esperanza United
Tell us about your organization. How is it changing lives – and why is it important?
Esperanza United mobilizes Latinas and Latin@ communities to end gender-based violence. Formerly Casa de Esperanza, Esperanza United was founded in 1982 by a small group of persevering Latinas as an emergency shelter in St. Paul, Minnesota. We continue to ground our work in community strengths and wisdom, as we serve Latin@s locally and nationwide.
What is your role and how does it support your organization’s mission?
As the Prevention & Social Change Manager, I organize and facilitate connections, support, resources, and leadership opportunities for Latinas and their families to end gender-based violence. In addition, I support the coordination of our Fuerza Unida Amigas initiative, working with the community to prevent gender-based violence, promote healthy relationships, and challenge social norms that perpetuate violence.
Can you share a memorable or impactful moment you experienced through your role or with your organization?
I have had many memorable moments with Esperanza United however, the most heartwarming one occurred with a group of long-term youth leaders. These eight teens began their journey with Esperanza United when they were 12 or 13 years old and are now in college. As we sat around a bonfire last year, we asked them, how has Esperanza United supported you? They said things like we helped them “unlearn unhealthy patterns,” figure out the difference between being “calm and not passive-aggressive,” know “that I have a voice and I matter,” and how to create and respect “boundaries.” Many agreed and spoke about the difficulty of letting go of unhealthy friendships and relationships while in high school. They shared that we gave them the tools and resources to end their unhealthy relationships when they were ready. I, like many other staff at Esperanza United, have watched these youth leaders grow up, so to hear and see their progress has been inspiring. Their stories have shown us the short and long-term impact of our work and the amazing leaders and advocates these teens became because of their participation in our organization.
Tell us about your background. What was your path and what drew you to work in your current role or field?
I was born in Mexico but raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. I have always loved my culture and working with families and communities.
My journey at Esperanza United actually began in the summer of 2009. At the time I was a junior in high school seeking summer opportunities to build up my resume. What I did not know was that I was going to gain more than just a few sentences on a piece of paper. Through my work as a youth leader, I met amazing peers and leaders that looked like me and understood my reality. I learned that we all have the ability to be leaders and the importance of working with one another. While I began my journey here thinking that I was going to gain professional experience, which I did, I believe that I learned more about myself, which included my trauma, healing, and leadership skills. During this time of learning for me, I found myself for the first time unpacking and understanding how being abused had affected me. In addition, I was given tools and resources that helped me begin healing and discover my strengths and goals.
When I attended the University of Minnesota - Twins Cities, I did not hesitate to pursue my degrees in Family Social Science and Chicano-Latino Studies. There, I sought opportunities to work with Latinx families and youth through volunteering. Soon after graduating I began my career at Esperanza United as the Youth Specialist and loved the work culture and support. In 2018, I made the decision to go back to school and pursue a Masters degree in Social Work while still working at Esperanza United.
One goal that drew me to work in my current position was working to prevent gender-based violence and giving back to communities as it was through their positive impacts and contributions in my life that I grew up to be the strong leader I am today.
What are the greatest challenges facing your organization?
One of the greatest challenges our organization faces is around unrestricted funding - we know sometimes the families and communities we work with would most benefit from having some extra cash on hand. But that type of support can be hard to provide. The pandemic also created its own set of challenges around resources for us and the families we serve. We had to learn so much at once - how to work remotely, what that meant for changing how we deliver our services - while also facing unprecedented levels of need and crisis.
What’s a skillset someone should develop if they are interested in pursuing a career like yours?
There are many skills that are important for a career in this field, some of which include communication, listening, transparency, authenticity, and empathy. There are many opportunities to work on your own and work with others, so responsibility and teamwork are also important. When working on projects, organization and planning skills come in handy.
What advice would you give to women trying to pursue a similar career as you?
Volunteering and attending events hosted by an organization that you love are great ways to start. We now have the ability to connect via technology so following organizations, businesses, or movements that you feel connected with on social media will help you stay informed. Taking the first step to connect with an organization may be scary but completely worth it in the end.
What advice would you give to young girls or women who your organization works to impact?
An amazing advocate at Esperanza United once said, “when you are ready, we are here for you.” Please remember that you are not alone, there are organizations, like ours, ready to support you when you’re ready.
Taking the first step towards your goal can sometimes be challenging and scary but when the time comes, take a deep breath, remind yourself of the amazing person you are, and make that first move. If you come to find that it’s a little more challenging than you thought, seek support. There are many amazing leaders in the community that can help guide you toward success.
How can people learn more or get involved in your organization?
There are a variety of ways to become involved with our organization which include supporting legislative improvements, donating, volunteering, joining our staff, and more. To learn more, please feel free to visit our website at https://esperanzaunited.org/en/get-involved/.
For help and support in situations of domestic violence, call Esperanza United’s confidential 24-hour bilingual crisis line at 651-772-1611.
SheBelieves’ core pillars are Career, Confidence, & Community, with a mission to inspire and empower girls and young women. How does your organization connect to the SheBelieves mission and pillars?
At Esperanza United, we believe in the leadership, power, and strength that everyone brings to the table. There are times when some girls and young women don’t see that in themselves but through the process of working with them, we often witness their increase in confidence. As a result, they find themselves able to speak in front of their class, seek new opportunities outside of our youth groups, apply for jobs, envision themselves in college, and more. Sometimes it takes us believing in them for them to believe in themselves. And we’re systematic about that belief, providing them with reference letters before they ask, supporting them with applications, helping with college deposits, etc. To make sure we’re holistically supporting the girls and young women in our program, we collaborate with other organizations and businesses. Together, as a community, we address their needs whether it’s helping our youth leaders complete a participatory action project or their families purchase meals.