National Hispana Leadership Institute - Celebrating 20 Years of Latina Leadership Search
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Mother and Daughter Team Impacting Communities

For those who know them, it’s hard to tell them apart. Besides family ties, there are other elements that bind them. They work at the same company, share community work, and both are driven by the desire to make a difference.

 They are also connected by courage, endurance, passion and determination.  There is one more special bond that ties them together: their National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI) experience. 

Mother and daughter, Sonja Mazon Rubalcava and Elisa Rubalcava, are graduates of NHLI’s leadership programs. Sonja completed the Executive Leadership Program (ELP) for working professionals while her daughter completed the Latinas Learning to Lead (LLL) program for college level women. 

A little more than a decade ago, Sonja heard about a leadership program for mid-career Hispanic women like her who were looking to enhance their leadership skills and make a greater impact in their communities.   At the time, Sonja worked at AT&T and served as Executive Officer for the corporation’s Hispanic Association of AT&T Employees (HISPA).

 While the NHLI buzz continued from many of ELP’s alumnae, including from her sister Linda Mazon Gutierrez who graduated in 1992, and despite her interest in the program, the timing wasn’t right. Her heavy involvement in HISPA kept her from pursuing this dream, until the imaginable happened: she lost her fourth-term election as Executive Officer of HISPA. As devastating as this loss was, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because she now had time for the program. Equipped with energy, time and her company’s support, Sonja applied to NHLI’s Executive Leadership Program in 1996. 

When she entered the program, one of her goals was to gain a deeper understanding of public policy. As an advocate in Arizona, Sonja was constantly fighting to advance issues of concern to her community.  She aspired to learn how to talk to elected officials more effectively. 

The minute she arrived at the John F. Kennedy School of Government for ELP’s Harvard Week,  Sonja reflected on her leadership journey, “this can happen to anybody,” thought Sonja, adding that  NHLI helped her “create my life vision.”  

Just like her mom, Elisa went through a similar experience eight years later.   Sonja encouraged Elisa to apply to ELP’s counterpart for college-aged Latinas, Latinas Learning to Lead.   Because of her experience, Sonja knew the program would do the same for her daughter. 

Timing was a factor in Elisa’s NHLI experience as well. When she first applied to the program in 2003, she was not accepted.  Rather than dwelling on the setback, it fueled her to learn how to articulate her ideas and achievements more concisely to prepare for the second round of application a year later.  Her endurance and preparation paid off and in 2004 Elisa was accepted to LLL. As a journalism student at Arizona State University, Elisa entered the program to sharpen her leadership skills, interact with other young leaders from across the nation and get to know her culture a little more. 

“LLL served as a strong foundation to help me support other girls,” said Elisa. She improved her public speaking skills and learned how to better interact in social settings.  She left the program with “a lot more confidence about who I was,” continued Elisa, adding that LLL helped her take control of her life. 

Through her participation in the program, Elisa discovered her passion for working with people. “When I took the Gallup Organization StrenghtFinder, I learned that one of my strengths is empathy,” explained Elisa.  

That finding led her to re-assess her career objectives. As a journalist, Elisa knew she was not going to be able to write about issues she cared about and get involved in those causes. She perceived the need for financial literacy in her native Phoenix, so she has ventured in a direction that will allow her to educate the community at large, but especially Latinos, on this topic.  

With a newfound passion and renewed commitment to service, a few weeks shy from college graduation, Elisa marched into a State Farm® Insurance agency and asked how she could be a part of the company. Weeks later she had become an agency recruiter.  “I wanted to help people find solutions to their problems,” she said.  

The career switch has been a satisfying and fulfilling decision for Elisa and an inspiration to her mother, who after hearing her daughter’s countless stories with clients, decided to follow the same route as a State Farm® agent.   

After graduating from the Executive Leadership Program in 1997, Sonja returned to AT&T eventually she transitioned from the corporate sector to marketing. She became a certified life coach and pursued a Master in Business Administration.  “Had I not gone through NHLI, I am not sure I would have gotten my master’s,” she said; adding that “NHLI helped me develop my skills and vision to become a life coach and continue nurturing and mentoring the next generation,” said Sonja. 

As her NHLI leadership project, she launched a Youth Leadership Institute under the Hispanic Women’s Corporation—an organization led by her sister Linda, where Sonja serves as a Board member and Elisa is on the youth committee. Since its launch more than a decade ago, the Youth Institute has grown from training 100 to about 500 young Latinas each year, and the mother-daughter team have impacted the lives of more than 5,000 in Arizona. 

One of those Latinas is Bibiana Rivera, a financial aid outreach counselor at Arizona State University, who met Elisa and Sonja last year. 

“[Elisa] has been a positive influence. She motivates me to get involved and has exposed me to many opportunities,” shared Bibiana. “Both Sonja and Elisa are good role models.” 

Since completing the NHLI program, Sonja and Elisa have leveraged their leadership skills attained to impact the Arizona community and beyond. They exemplify the benefit of having strong Latina leaders in our communities and visible role models. 

“The impact NHLI has had on both of us has been tremendous,” said Sonja.  

With more than 20 years in the corporate and marketing arenas, Sonja will open her own State Farm® Insurance agency after being inspired by her daughter’s risk-taking and desire to educate the community on financial matters. The determination to help others does not end there; Sonja plans to create her own family foundation that will focus in providing academic scholarships. As for Elisa, she plans on becoming a State Farm® agent soon. 

By providing Hispanic women like Sonja and Elisa access to high caliber leadership and professional development opportunities, role models, and mentors; NHLI serves as a catalyst to increase the pace of progress for Latinas by giving them the tools to advance and grow as leaders, become more vital contributors to the economy and to creating healthy communities. 

To learn how to participate in NHLI’s leadership programs, click here. 

Your donation of $25, $50 or $100 or your support through NHLI’s Circle of Friends will help NHLI provide leadership opportunities to women like Sonja and Elisa who are making a difference everyday in their communities.  

With just one click you can make a contribution that will shape the future of a Latina leader.  Click here to donate today and/or click here to join NHLI’s Circle of Friends.