Violeta Moser came to the United States in 1974 as an exchange student from Peru.
She studied at New Jersey’s Montclair State University and earned a degree in business administration.
“I was supposed to stay for only one semester,” Moser said. “And it has turned into 42 years.”
Moser, 60, knows the obstacles faced by students who are new to the U.S. educational system.
“I could identify with students in need,” she said. “And I wanted to give back.”
Moser is now doing just that as executive director of the Latin American Women’s Association, a position she has held since August 2010.
The association was formed in 1993 by Latina women, including Cecilia Montero, who, Moser said “saw the need for raising funds in order to help send Latino students to college.”
The mission has evolved to include college preparedness and “to advance education for Latinos in the Charlotte region through educational programs and scholarships for higher education,” she said.
In the beginning, LAWA was staffed by solely by volunteers who paid annual dues. Additional scholarship funds came from LAWA’s annual fundraiser, Carnival Charlotte, a black-tie party held each March.
As Charlotte’s Latino population grew, LAWA’s membership grew and they endeavored to respond to the additional challenges and needs they saw. Moser was hired as the organization’s first executive director. The association still relies on volunteers who pay annual dues, as well as corporate sponsors and partnerships with other organizations.
LAWA does more than just give scholarships, though. In 2008, Peter Gorman, the then-superintendent of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, requested that Charlotte’s Latino community increase Latino parent involvement in the schools. LAWA responded by creating a tutoring program that involves parents. The program called for tutors to help with reading comprehension and basic math.
LAWA taps into the Latino community and the community at large for tutors. There are 25 tutors who work with 120 students identified by their school principals as either needing tutoring or needing additional parental support. Most of the students LAWA helps are in the English as a Second Language Program, but tutors do not have to speak Spanish.
In addition to working with the students, the tutorial program has a parenting component. Moser said that part “engages parents and makes them more involved in the system.”
It provides parenting classes, such as teaching parents how the American school system works, the importance of being involved in their child’s school and classroom, and how to help their children read.
A third component of the program focuses on the social development of the child and specifically on bullying. LAWA has introduced Dancing for Diversity dance lessons for Latino students and their nonLatino peers.
“It builds self-esteem and teaches them about their own native culture,” said Moser. The students learn Latin American dances like salsa and tango that are designed to “make them proud of their heritage and where they come from while debunking cultural stereotypes,” Moser said.
LAWA has partnerships with four CMS elementary schools that have high immigrant populations and ESL programs. The schools are: Merry Oaks International Academy, Albemarle Road Elementary, Winterfield Elementary and Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, and one middle school: Albemarle Road Middle.
In addition, LAWA has partnered with five colleges and universities – UNC Charlotte, Wingate, CPCC, South Piedmont Community College and Queens University – so the scholarships, which range from $500 to $2,500, are matched by the institutions. LAWA raises approximately $180,000 annually to support its programs.
Moser said the combined efforts of LAWA’s programs make a difference. She points to a child who was given a scholarship but turned it down because her parents needed her at home to work. LAWA reached out to the parents and helped them understand why the investment in college would pay dividends. Another child was labeled learning disabled due to the language barrier, but thanks to LAWA’s intervention, it turned out that he simply needed glasses.
“I think in the work that we do every single day there are opportunities to save the world,” Moser said. “Just touching one child at a time is as meaningful and important as saving the world.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
Visit www.lawanc.org for more information about fundraisers, to volunteer or to donate money to LAWA’s scholarships and programs.