Rosie Molinary, Our Latest Distinguished Davidsonian
Ten years ago, Davidson author, presenter, and educator, Rosie Molinary, took on a big challenge. While researching her book “Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina,” she recognized that many young Latina girls faced tremendous odds against leading successful lives. Statistics indicated that about 40 percent of Latina students drop out of high school for reasons both related and unrelated to school. Other barriers include limited English proficiency, poverty, high pregnancy rates, gender and ethnic stereotyping, and undocumented immigration status. Rosie, a Latina daughter of Puerto Rican parents, pledged to provide a means to help girls overcome the odds, and in 2008 founded the non-profit group “Circle de Luz.”
The organization is now celebrating its tenth anniversary of empowering Latinas in middle school and high school through monthly sessions in academic enrichment, college preparation, career exploration, art, outdoor activities, music concerts, healthy diet, and financial literacy. Their outdoor experiences include training for a 5K run and climbing on the high-ropes course at Davidson College.
Rosie graduated from Davidson College in 1996 and then taught at Garinger High in Charlotte. She loved writing as much as teaching, and earned a master’s degree in creative writing. She spent six years working at Davidson College in the community service office, then left to write full-time for three years. She currently teaches part-time in UNC Charlotte’s gender studies department, as well as conducting workshops and retreats on intentional living and self-care with non-profits and health care groups.
Circle de Luz has grown from an all-volunteer group to a professionally staffed nonprofit with a budget of about $125,000. It is currently adding another program manager to its staff, allowing the board to focus more on strategic growth and planning.
The organization adds a class per year, with eight girls per class, beginning with seventh grade. Three classes have now gone through the entire program and graduated, and five classes are currently in process. All of the students are first in their families to attend college. Each grade group is directed by an adult “class captain” who is responsible for mentoring one of the grade groups for six years, from their selection into the program through their high school graduation. Each graduate receives a $5,000 scholarship to get started in college.
Rosie, who lives in Davidson with a third grade son, her husband, and her father, serves as chair of the board for Circle de Luz. She supports programming, fundraising, problem solving challenges faced by the girls and their families, and she brainstorms new possibilities for programming. “It’s important to deal with the household as a whole because we want our girls to have stable, healthy experiences not only in school, but at home,” Rosie said.
A growing concern taking up more of Rosie’s time is helping girls and their families deal with their immigration status. When Circle de Luz began, immigration status didn’t appear to be a legislative concern. But the Trump presidency has ushered in a new emphasis on issues that threaten the residency of some Circle de Luz students and families.
“It’s an intense time to be any sort of ‘other’ in our culture now,” Rosie said. “The crackdown on status has made vulnerable people even more vulnerable, and that’s painful to see. Many of them live in fear of even going outside, and avoid doing simple daily errands.”
The situation forced the Circle de Luz staff to deeply consider its mission. “We realized we had been telling these girls they could go to college, but for the ones who are undocumented that might not be true,” said Rosie. “So what should we do? Do we change into solely a high school completion program?”
They contacted educational institutions to find how they supported undocumented students and learned that many were trying to be accessible. They kept the structure of their program intact and added more programming and support for those who may be undocumented. Those initiatives include conducting a session to help families weigh their options, and helping girls navigate the DACA Program. Rosie said “Circle de Luz can’t do much more than that. The uncertainty is frustrating for the program, and downright frightening for many of the students. But we are doing what we can, and I remind myself that the most important thing is to just stay positive for our girls and their families while continuing to support them through the possibilities.”
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.