Today’s turning point story is written by Pilar Pinel, founder of Embracing Latina Leadership Alliances (ELLAS). ELLAS is dedicated to the educational, professional and political advancement of underserved Latina youth. She is also a L’Oréal Paris 2011 Women of Worth honoree.
Throughout my young life, I found pleasure in helping others. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I embraced the thought that everyone was born with a unique purpose and that time would lead me to realize what mine would be. For me, giving to others was not because I was wealthy, but because it was the right thing to do. As a Latina, I felt a responsibility to step up to the plate at such a historical turn in our nation’s history for women, in particular for Latinas who lacked role models in their environments and the resources to reach their full potential.
My father passed away when I was 24, the following year a brother passed away as a firefighter and one month later my brother-in-law died while driving in Mexico. Each left this world tragically and unexpectedly, but not without a lifelong footprint of their humanitarian contributions to their family, friends and community. During this time I felt abandoned in an emotional fog of – why? Little did I know that these experiences would make me who I am today, and how I would gain my wisdom and strength.
A year later, unexpectedly divorced and raising our 3-year-old son alone on limited income, I went to college while working nights and weekends. Navigating through the post-secondary process alone, without role models or support, was extremely tough. There were times when my son was in class with me at 6 a.m., because I had no one to take care of him and quitting was not an option. Finishing my studies, I worked for two community college districts and later the legislative department. The political awakening I’d gained greatly influenced my founding “ELLAS” in 2003. When my son was young he would call me “Zina” (a princess warrior), because he said “I could overcome any difficult challenges thrown my way.. My name (Pilar) refers to “column/strength”— for me, each day is about faith, love and being grateful for those who committed their lives to our country’s freedom and strength.
My “turning point” was the synergy of my life experiences linked to timing and opportunity and seeing so many young Latinas reminding me of me at their age. However, if asked to put one experience at the top, it would be my father’s death. It opened my eyes to how fragile life is, and the window of opportunity we all have to contribute to positive change and the importance of setting one’s moral compass to assist others in their challenges regardless of our own challenges. To recognize the monumental power each of us possess when we give of ourselves selflessly in kindness and empathy. My passion possibly would not have been realized if not for someone seeing the potential in my vision and investing in the mission. A dear friend once said that “positive energy is only as good as it is shared.” SHARE! After all, we take nothing with us when we depart this world.