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Posted March 30, 2017 | 4:24 PM

Opportunity Unlocks Latina's Earning Potential

Classes, camaraderie help empower enterprising Wimauma women

Jesenia Armendariz was discouraged. She left behind friends, her church, and her child-care business when she moved here from Linwood, New Jersey, in 2015. She needed encouragement, advice, and a formal certification that would allow her to work with Florida preschoolers.

Enterprising Latinas, partnering with Hillsborough County Economic Development and Children's Services, provided all of that. In mid-March, Jesenia completed classes at Women's Opportunity Center in Wimauma and passed the state's early child-care certification test. She also has new friends, thanks largely to Enterprising Latinas. "It feels good that somebody actually cares," Jesenia says. "I love these ladies."

She is among a handful of women who hope to open child-care businesses this year in Wimauma, a community in South Hillsborough County. The need is great. With about 700 preschool-age children in the 25-square-mile Wimauma area, there is just one early child-care home.

Since August, Enterprising Latinas has trained women eager to boost their economic prospects by learning how to provide professional child care and prepare young children for school. But the program's focus is not solely on this win-win scenario. Other women want to run restaurants, provide transportation, or care for seniors living in nearby Sun City Center. One wants to open a tattoo business. Enterprising Latinas wants to help these women, too.

Ideally, prospective opportunities tap the women's talents, intelligence, and passions for bettering themselves and Wimauma.

Enterprising Latinas has captured the community's interest. Directors hoped to screen about 25 women for the early child-care certification program, but ended up interviewing more than three times that many. Ultimately, 27 candidates entered the program.

The nonprofit organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of low-income women in the Tampa Bay area has its own space at Women's Opportunity Center, 18240 U.S. 301 S., in Wimauma. With pink chairs, colorful posters, laptop computers, and an aerial map of the area, it is a comfortable retreat.

Along with Hillsborough County, the program is supported by Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Children's Board of Hillsborough County, Florida Blue, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Lightning Foundation, Prospera, and other community partners.

The women are encouraged to "skill up" to overcome barriers such as low income and self-confidence, a lack of information, and language hurdles. They receive encouragement, training, and networking opportunities.

Already an informal mentor, Jesenia's long-term goal is to be an Enterprising Latinas counselor. She wants to help women focus on their dreams, and follow through to achieve them.

"People start something but they don't finish," she says. "The goal here is to set your mind on something and get it done."

Photo Information: Since it launched in August 2016, Enterprising Latinas has captured the attention of Wimauma women.