WIMAUMA — Enterprising Latinas' efforts to spur economic development for women in Wimauma continues to grow.
And it recently got a boost from a Hillsborough County School Board member.
During a presentation at a social enterprise competition sponsored by the Children's Board, school board member Sally Harris listened intently as Enterprising Latinas CEO and founder Liz Gutierrez made a passionate plea for support of her organization, which aims to improve the lives of women living under very difficult conditions in Wimauma.
The presentations made before the Children's Board were given by small businesses trying to get a small grant, $25,000-$30,000, as a kick-start to help them get their businesses up and running. The grant is intended to help an upstart business poised with a plan but struggling to put all the pieces in place.
Harris, who also serves on the Children's Board, described Gutierrez as "a bundle of nerves as she made her presentation. She dropped her papers so her speech got out of line and then the computer wouldn't work, so her well-prepared slideshow didn't happen."
But speaking from her heart, Gutierrez made an impassioned speech about the need for transportation for the Latino women who live in Wimauma.
"Everything that could go wrong at the beginning of her presentation did," Harris said. "But what I saw was a passion, a real love for what she is doing, knowing that what she is doing is making a difference."
So Harris, longtime owner and operator of the Circle C Ranch Academy in South Tampa, donated a 14-passenger van provided by school board member
"If this makes somebody else want to give something to help Liz's cause, then it's worth it," Harris said. "I just really wanted to help her."
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The lack of transportation in this area of SouthShore creates a more difficult hardship for low-income families in the area. Without the means to make trips others take for granted — going to Walmart, picking up prescriptions, traveling to bus stops, transporting kids to child care centers — the struggle grows greater.
The county may acknowledge that this issue is a concern, but Gutierrez has been told that it will be as many as 25 years before the population growth and the funding will be available to actually provide any kind of bus transportation within the confines of Wimauma. So in the spirit of addressing community challenges and converting them into economic opportunities, she came up with a plan to provide transportation service six or seven days a week, 12 hours a day.
The consistent ride source would use a fixed route, move through the four quadrants of Wimauma and deliver passengers to key locations. Gutierrez's ambitious dream, a small fleet of five vans, requires approximately $260,000 in capital.
"Why not look at this from an economic development perspective?" Gutierrez said. "Transportation is a huge business and shared service is becoming a viable way for people to get around.
"We need to create alternatives and in Hillsborough County, the more alternatives the better. In a place like Wimauma, where there isn't a plan and no one is providing a service right now, we can really make a difference."
Not only would this local transportation system provide a much needed service, it also would provide gainful employment for 10 women from the community as drivers.
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The ability to earn a living and provide for their families is exactly what Enterprising Latinas is all about. When Gutierrez began her work in this nonprofit a little over a year ago, it was just herself and one other paid assistant that enrolled about 30 women to develop small business opportunities, particularly in the area of child care.
In a community of approximately 700 children under the age of 5, this was a top priority for the group.
"We enrolled 40 women in the child care licensing program," Gutierrez said. "Thirty of them completed the 40-hour, state-sanctioned child care licensing course in partnership with the Children's Board, the Hillsborough County School District and the office of Child Care Licensing.
"This past August we had the grand opening of our very first child care home. Now 28 of the 30 women who passed the course are state licensed and some are already employed in local centers."
Today Gutierrez has three full-time paid staff members and three volunteers who are paid a stipend to work full-time for one year. With her increased staff, she has now extended her curriculum to include certified nursing assistant training, food service licensing, business development, family support, financial security and child care licensing.
With the addition of a transportation system, Gutierrez foresees a much brighter future for the women of Wimauma.
"It represents that what we are trying to do matters and what we do is important and we can't give up," she said.
Added Harris: "It's like a win-win-win situation."
Contact Kathy Straub at [email protected]