Dioselina Auilez likes knowing that there is someone to listen, relate and empathize with the struggles of navigating a new country.

The Cold Spring resident gains that comfort from Latinameka!

A new partnership between Create CommUNITY, Perseverancia and Casa Guadalupe, Latinameka! serves as a place where Latina women can share their experiences, offer and receive advice and build new relationships with women in their community.

"I learned that I am not alone," Auilez said. "There are (other) people experiencing the same issues."

Monthly gatherings are not only for social interaction but to help one another with issues ranging from personal experiences and parenting tips to language barriers and community resources.


Support system


Monica Segura-Schwartz of Perseverancia, a grassroots cultural advocacy group for the Latino community, said the partnership of the three organizations works because they are all geared toward similar goals.

"We want to explore and see what power we have," Segura-Schwartz said. "We can create a support system."

Latinameka! was formed in February after a request to try the Omeka! format — already at work within African and African-American communities — within the Latino community. Women start the gatherings with food and fellowship, transition into small group discussion and end with a large-group discussion called a circle share-in.

Carmen Garcia de Avalos and Maria Cruz Garcia like the sharing aspect of Latinameka!

"I like that we can get together and learn from our experiences," Garcia de Avalos said.

Perseverancia aims to establish a culture of unity. More importantly, organizers want Latina women to be a strong voice in the community, Segura-Schwartz said.


The theme for Latinameka's year is "Health and Education," two areas organizers found women wanted to learn more about. Among the goals is for the women to attend an April event, Health 101, sponsored by CentraCare Health System, said Hedy Tripp, coordinator for Create CommUNITY.

Latinameka! is the second group focused on building cultural bridges between women. Omeka!, launched in November 2008, seeks to build relationships between African and African-American women.

The groups are part of Create CommUNITY's efforts to help immigrants navigate their new community. Mayuli Bales, coordinator of Casa Guadalupe, a Hispanic ministry and outreach program run through St. Boniface Church, said often women have things in common but do not communicate with one another.

"Our goal is to have families in the community get to know each other, reach out and strengthen the community," Bales said.


Breaking Isolation


Organizer Debra Leigh has learned a lot from the two meetings of Latinameka!, noting differences from Omeka! ranging from language to experience.

"I've learned that there is healing in community — coming together," Leigh said. "There is power there."

Leigh facilitates both Omeka! and Latinameka! gatherings and says the focus of the program is to not only offer support but to build relationships that go beyond the gatherings. "There is no reason for isolation," Leigh said. "We are all here in this community."

During a health discussion March 20, Leigh shared the importance of women "taking care of each other."

"As women in the community, we have to pay attention to each other," Leigh said.

At some point, organizers hope to introduce the groups and expand on those connections.

"This project is about leadership and taking things in our own hands," Bales said. "We really want to introduce people with different ethnic backgrounds. This is an opportunity to educate ourselves."