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Enterprising Latinas looks to break the cycle of poverty in Wimauma

Sara Arias-Steele waits to speak to Lis Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, at the newly opened Women’s Opportunity Center in Wimauma, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 07, 2016.  Enterprising Latinas celebrates the opening of its Women’s Opportunity Center in Wimauma. The organization is dedicated to the economic empowerment of low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay. In partnership with local, state and national organizations, ELI opens new pathways of economic opportunities by creating networks of mutual support to encourage Latinas to pursue their personal and economic goals, teaching new skills and providing new tools that lead to entrepreneurial careers and workforce opportunities; and advocating for innovative service and public policy solutions that promote economic security and social equality.
Sara Arias-Steele waits to speak to Lis Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, at the newly opened Women’s Opportunity Center in Wimauma, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 07, 2016. Enterprising Latinas celebrates the opening of its Women’s Opportunity Center in Wimauma. The organization is dedicated to the economic empowerment of low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay. In partnership with local, state and national organizations, ELI opens new pathways of economic opportunities by creating networks of mutual support to encourage Latinas to pursue their personal and economic goals, teaching new skills and providing new tools that lead to entrepreneurial careers and workforce opportunities; and advocating for innovative service and public policy solutions that promote economic security and social equality.
Published Dec. 9, 2016

Liz Gutierrez has brought her life-long fight for families to Wimauma, and she hopes to succeed by infusing the entrepreneurial spirit of Latina woman.

Gutierrez heads Enterprising Latinas, and is confident with this new network of women helping women, she can make a difference in the lives of the families living in poverty in Wimauma. The effort doesn't come without extensive research on how best to help this rural SouthShore community east of Sun City Center.

"You first have to help her understand who she is and instill a desire to want something better," Gutierrez said. "I can't give you 'stuff' that's going to take you out of poverty. If that was the case, welfare would have done that."

Gutierrez hopes to utilize her passion for helping others guide Latina women find a pathway to developing a business or a skill that will generate income.

Enterprising Latinas, which opened a Women's Opportunity Center at 18240 U.S. 301 on Dec. 7, hopes to help clients discover business opportunities and provide tools to fulfill those goals.

Wimauma has a significant need for such a program. The 25 square miles that make up the town features a mix of migrant workers, second- and third-generation families, an American Indian reservation and a recent influx of subdivisions along U.S. 301 north of State Road 674.

More than 700 children under the age of 4 live in the community and the average adult age ranges from 28-32. Low-income women make up 51 percent of the population, yet there are no hairdressers, no banks and no drugstores or major stores, save for a Walmart and an incoming Aldi's. Equally deficient: two childcare centers for the large population of children.

That's why Enterprising Latinas will start with a program known as the Wimauma Cares Project. Headed by Gutierrez's assistant, Sara Arias-Steele who is currently working on a doctoral degree in anthropology at the University of South Florida, this program is working with 20 Latinas to provide training, licensing and the necessary skills to hopefully open seven new childcare facilities in the Wimauma area.

"The problem for our Latinas is they can't see beyond the barriers that they encounter here," Arias-Steele said. "We want to provide something very different from other organizations who just say, 'What do you need?'

"We provide a more personal service by providing counseling and a network of support from a group of women who are in the same situation. We're in this together. These women need something more sustainable than just charity."

Gutierrez, a Dominican Republic native who grew up as an immigrant in Massachusetts, has a wealth of experience helping people move out of poverty.

"I come at it from the perspective of what I want for me, I want for everybody else, and what you want is the same thing I want," Gutierrez said. "The fact that you may be white and I may be brown has nothing to do with it.

"At the end of the day we all want the same thing – to be happy and to have a high quality of life regardless of what corner of the world you may be from."

Funding for Enterprising Latinas has come in part from Florida Blue.

Allegany Franciscan Ministries, an agency that has brought its extensive Common Good Initiative to Wimauma, also is a contributor. The initiative seeks to boost health and wellness through engagement, a long-term commitment of resources and increased collaboration of stakeholders.

"I see Enterprising Latinas as a wonderful opportunity to begin the conversation of how we change the economic sustainability of familes in Wimauma," said Allegany regional vice president Cheri Wright-Jones. "Ensuring that our families have the ability to have mom or dad earn a livable wage and take care of their families only ensures the next generation is healthier, stronger and more prosperous."

While Gutierrez focuses on improving lives for Latino families, the broader goal is to impact the entire community.

Enterprising Latinas wants to make sure that the tide rises for everyone," Gutierrez said. "If we don't have the skills or the capacity for economic growth, we won't be able to have a high quality community."

Contact Kathy Straub at hillsnews@tampabay.com.