Lake Norman & Mooresville

Mentors witness change in Latina girls

A young Latina girl dons a pair of glasses and studies her reflection in the mirror.

To get to this point, she's faced many obstacles - academic struggles, slipping grades, a lack of health insurance - but for the first time, she sees herself clearly.

The glasses help her to see the board in the classroom, the world around her - and herself.

Davidson resident Rosie Molinary witnessed a change in the girl after she received the glasses.

"Here was someone who couldn't see for a very long time, and was now carrying herself with such confidence," said Molinary.

The girl was a part of Circle de Luz, a group Molinary founded two years ago. The group's mission is to empower young Latinas through mentoring, programming and scholarship funds.

Molinary, who is Puerto Rican, grew up in a military family in South Carolina. When her father retired, her family opted to stay in the United States rather than return to Puerto Rico so that Molinary could receive the best possible education.

"I was aware of how significant that decision was, and always really grateful for the gift that I'd been given," she said.

Through the years, she took multiple trips to Puerto Rico and noted the differences in opportunities for women.

Molinary, 36, and her husband, Mike Kessler, live on Davidson's Westside with their son, Abram, 2.

A lifelong writer, Molinary spent her adolescence writing in her journals about what she wanted for herself in the future.

"By writing those things down, I was holding myself responsible, and it made me more self-aware. I didn't make risky decisions, because I knew what I expected of myself."

Molinary went on to attend Davidson College and began teaching high school after she graduated. As she worked with students from different backgrounds, the cornerstone of her U.S. history class became writing.

"I saw them struggle to find their own voices, and wanted them to use writing to be more at home with themselves."

She decided to pursue a master's degree in creative writing, thinking she would go back and teach another 30 years.

But when an adviser asked her at graduation why she'd never pursued publishing, she adjusted her plan.

"If my mission is helping people access their voices to live authentic lives, maybe this is just a different method of doing that," she said.

As she researched what would become her book "Hijas Americanas," she was struck by how dire some of the young girls' situations were.

"I understood that a lot of these terrible statistics were going to wind up applying to these girls right in front of me. I wanted them to recognize that the statistics don't have to be true for them."

Not one to sit and do nothing, Molinary started Circle de Luz.

The women's giving circle identifies hijas, daughters, in the seventh grade and mentors them until graduation, providing programming and scholarship opportunities.

The M'ijas, or girlfriends, come from a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

They work with the girls to set goals, help figure out career paths and provide them with experiences and exposure to new situations.

"We've gone ice skating, run a 5K, done community service, tried sushi, went to see (the musical) 'Wicked,'" said Molinary.

"We hope to be a positive resource and broaden their horizons."

Each Hija will receive a $5,000 scholarship upon graduation to further their educational pursuits.

Molinary says Circle de Luz reminds her of the joys of being young and having possibilities in front of her.

"It's a powerful thing for these girls to have 50-some-odd women willing to believe in them, and a powerful thing for the women who choose to help. Watching it happen is an incredible honor."

Circle de Luz is looking for M'ijas to help with the 2016 class.