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Ohio State alumnae works to inspire young Latina girls

In 2011, Ohio State alumna and Puerto Rico native Yahaira Perez founded the Columbus-based organization Proyecto Mariposas with the goal of creating brave, young girls and empowering their mothers to be strong women.

“I struggled with my relationship with my mother,” Perez said. “And I realized, having mentors in your life, having people to support you, having role models, it’s extremely important.”

Today, the nonprofit organization helps primarily Latina girls who attend weekly meetings and events with their mothers.

Perez said she was motivated to start the organization after seeing the mother-daughter relationships in the Latino community weakened because parents were working several jobs at a time. She wanted to not only strengthen those bonds, but also be a role model for adolescent females.

In 2011, Ohio State alumna and Puerto Rico native Yahaira Perez founded the Columbus-based organization Proyecto Mariposas with the goal of creating brave, young girls and empowering their mothers to be strong women. Credit: Courtesy of Proyecto Mariposas

This weekend, Proyecto Mariposas will be hosting “The Valiente | Fuerte Workshop (Brave | Strong).” The event features a panel of speakers, including Tara Alexander, a professional fashion stylist and founder of Columbus-based Style Mastery, a company devoted to styling people based on body type, personality and lifestyle.

Alexander, an Ohio State alumna, has spoken at several Proyecto Mariposas events in the past, and will have another opportunity Saturday to teach girls how to express themselves and build confidence. 

“I think that it is so important to have this sort of program now, especially with what our young girls and kids are experiencing between bullying and self-defamation,” Alexander said. “It’s just so important for them to understand that they have this worth.”

The day will be focused on several areas of acceptance — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual — and Alexander will focus on what it means to be brave. 

“We really focus on, yes we all have issues, but how can we deal with them in a positive way?” she said. “It’s so great to kind of see [the girls] brains working, like they took everything I said and put it to use.”

In the past, Alexander has helped girls create outfits from donated clothing Perez received through Proyecto Mariposas.

Alexander has also incorporated body image into her lessons and used popular figures like Selena Gomez, who struggled with self-esteem, to prove that anyone can be self-conscious about his or her appearance.

Perez dreams of having more panel events in the future and even mentioned the possibility of allowing student speakers.  

“If this goes well, in 2018 I’m going to be focusing more on bringing in panels,” Perez said. “We could even do a panel of students from Ohio State.”

“The Valiente | Fuerte Workshop (Brave | Strong)” starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Martin de Porres Center near John Glenn Columbus International Airport. The event is open to students and women in the community.

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