San Luis Valley locals graduate from Latino Leadership Institute

Courtesy photos

ALAMOSA —  Victoria “Tori” Martinez, Felisa Gonzales and Duane Gurule have graduated from the 2021, cohort 10, of the Latino Leadership Institute (LLI) at the University of Denver. The LLI Fellowship is designed to elevate Latino professionals in their careers, expand their networks, and provide opportunities for personal and professional development across sectors and across Colorado.

“Developing the next generation of Latino leaders is essential to health and prosperity across our state,” said Dr. Ned Calonge, president and CEO of The Colorado Trust.

Cohort 10 was the first group of participants to complete the program virtually. Due to the restrictions and complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, transitioning to a virtual format was necessary. Although the group was never able to meet in person, they were still able to form genuine connections and build strong relationships like the 9 cohorts before them. The group’s graduation ceremony took place on Saturday, June 26th at 10:00 am on the Zoom platform and included family and friends.

Martinez resides in Antonito and has worked for The Colorado Trust since 2019, first as a Regional Associate and was promoted to a Community Organizer in 2020 in the Southcentral region of Colorado. She works toward health equity in the rural communities of the San Luis Valley. Martinez grew up on a farm in the small community of Capulin and spent summers with her grandparents in San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado. She is a proud Latina and Jicarilla Apache who received her Bachelor’s degree from Adams State University and her Master’s degree from Arizona State University. Prior to coming to The Colorado Trust Martinez worked as the Executive Director of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, where she worked to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of the area. She was one of the contributing authors of the 2020 book, The Geology, Ecology, and Human History of the San Luis Valley, published by the University Press of Colorado. “I grew up hearing stories and seeing firsthand that not everyone in our community had equal opportunities or equal access. I eventually I needed to bring about the change I wanted to see in my community. I am passionate about the work I do and the people rising to create change with me! I am a firm believer that no decision should be made about us, without us.” For more information about Martinez’s work visit her community’s website at https://www.hopealamosa.com/

Gonzales has worked for The Colorado Trust as an evaluation and learning manager since 2017. Felisa is a native of the San Luis Valley in Colorado. She attended The Colorado College and graduated with a BA in Neuroscience, a minor in Spanish, and a certificate in International Relations in 2001. Felisa has a PhD in Applied Social Psychology from the George Washington University and an MPH in Epidemiology from the University of California Berkeley. She has more than 10 years of experience conducting research on health disparities affecting populations of color, the findings of which are documented in numerous peer-reviewed publications, book chapters and reports. At The Trust, Felisa oversees the evaluations of advocacy funding strategies. “My background in the geographic and cultural borderlands has prepared me to be able to act as a bridge between those who have been excluded from spaces of power and those who hold power. I am compelled to use my voice and skills in data analysis to call attention to the needs and assets of the Latino community and to advocate for just solutions. The LLI gave me the skills and confidence to lean into my behind-the-scenes type of leadership and partner with others to contribute to systemic change.”

Gurulé has worked for The Colorado Trust since 2019, first as a Regional Associate and was also promoted to a Community Organizer in Southeast Colorado in 2020. He works to advance health equity in the Lower Arkansas Valley region of the state through organizing, leadership development and capacity building. Duane has faced tremendous adversity growing up in an unstable household between West Denver and Rocky Ford, involvement in a gang, and overcoming the criminal justice system. He is proud to have received his Bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver and is now pursuing a Master’s degree from Adams State University. Prior to joining The Colorado Trust Duane worked as a Systems Engineer for iLendingDIRECT and then left to co-found the nonprofit Small Town Project in his hometown of Rocky Ford, CO. Duane’s education and experiences fuel his passion to discover how technology can increase equity and improve the quality of life for people in the community. Duane says, “I have witnessed how people have been discarded or excluded by the systems and I want to invest my knowledge and time to changing these systems and conditions so that all people have an opportunity to thrive in life. My role with The Colorado Trust along with the knowledge and skills gained through the Latino Leadership Institute empower me to drive that change in my region.”

In early June LLI announced its transition from its University of Denver (DU) affiliation to a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization beginning July 1, 2021. The transition to an independent, non-profit organization is a direct response to the demand for a national network to nurture Latino and BIPOC leadership across the United States. “We’ve been working toward independence since our 2018 strategic planning process,” said Joelle Martinez, executive director of the Latino Leadership Institute. “Our seven years at DU have prepared us for the national stage.” To learn more about how LLI drives meaningful change with people, communities and organizations, contact Aliena Martinez, director of strategic partnerships at [email protected] or 720.436.9118.

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