Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hispanic women in Wichita raise their profile

Hispanic women hope to re-energize Wichita group
BY CHRISTINA M. WOODS, The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA - A network to uplift and empower Hispanic women is reorganizing and working to raise its profile as it celebrates its 25th anniversary.

In its infancy, the Hispanic Women's Network held an annual scholarship recognition banquet for high school students, awarded scholarships, mentored female entrepreneurs and successfully lobbied for local cable providers to offer a Spanish-language television station.

In recent years, the network has suffered because its members either pursued higher education or became overextended with other community-building activities.

But its core membership, which consists of professional women, are rallying to raise awareness of the group and to recruit new members.

They've coordinated a reception to coincide with National Women's History Month, recognized in March.

"We want to see this thing go," said Margo Parks, a member who is a city employee and is on various civic boards. "It's been in existence all this time. We don't want to see it die."

Its president, Veronica Triana, said the network will set priorities for what it hopes to accomplish during this year of rebuilding.

Ideally, the network would continue to emphasize education among Hispanic women and youth, provide mentoring and networking opportunities and encourage volunteerism.

The group also wants to help immigrant women better adjust to Wichita by guiding them to services such as English-language classes or GED programs.

More than 7,000 foreign-born Hispanic women live in the Wichita metro area, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2005 to 2007.

"They may be involved in their church activities in Spanish-speaking congregations, but branching out to women's or community organizations, they haven't yet," Triana said.

Also important, she said, is to affirm women who feel self-conscious about not being able to speak English.

"They need so much encouraging and mentoring," Triana said.

Former County Commissioner Ben Sciortino, an honorary group member, commended the group for the work it has done through the years.

The city's Hispanic population when the network launched was a fraction of what it is now, and few Hispanic-oriented civic organizations existed at the time.

Sciortino, who worked at Multimedia Cablevision when the group lobbied for the Spanish-language station to be carried locally, also served as emcee for the network's annual scholarship recognition program.

Based on that experience, Sciortino said, he took Spanish lessons at Wichita State University and is now proficient in the language.

"They're just a really neat group, and pretty-low key," said Sciortino. "They don't tout their accomplishments, but I have nothing but the utmost pride in those women and the way they've dedicated themselves to the entire Hispanic community."

Reach Christina M. Woods at 316-269-6791 or

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