Margarita Avila

My day job is Director of Workforce Development at the Latino Academy of Workforce Development. My primary responsibility is to create opportunities for the Latino community in Dane County. We do this by providing community education, training, and connections that ultimately lead to sustainable employment for our Latino Academy’s participants.

I have seen firsthand how having an open dialog about diversity and inclusion has benefited businesses. I’m passionate about partnering with companies in the community and championing our program’s benefits.

One of the most rewarding elements of my role is the opportunity to be a mentor. Throughout my career I’ve come to realize the true value of a good mentor—there have been so many times when that kind of genuine support made a huge difference in my life. I’ve had the good fortune of knowing incredible mentors throughout my professional journey who didn’t allow me to let fear get the best of me—who empowered me to achieve my goals and go beyond what I ever dreamed. 

I hope I’m able to play that role for the men and women who come to my organization looking for support. My mentors are especially important to me as a Latina in a new culture. There are so many things in my life that I just couldn’t seek guidance from my parents because of the difference in culture here in the United States. Although my parents are extremely supportive, they don’t always understand the rules and cultural nuances here. 

I came to Madison, Wisconsin from Durango, Mexico when I was just 14 years old. In 2008, I graduated from James Madison Memorial High School. I attended college in Milwaukee where I received my bachelor’s degree in Communicative Arts with a concentration in Marketing and Communications. My last two years of college helped me set the foundation of who I am today. I was elected as an ambassador for the United Nations and traveled the world supporting global advocacy and workforce development initiatives. 

I made exceptional connections while I was in college, one that became my boss—and an invaluable mentor—at the American Heart Association in Milwaukee. From there I moved into real estate. It was a great job, I had another supportive boss and an outstanding learning experience, but I realized I missed the connection with the community. 

My brother and his wife first heard about my current role and thought it would be an ideal fit. Soon after, another person mentioned it too. I thought…maybe I need to look into this position more. It has been an honor to serve in this role since November 2019.

I’m especially excited about the chance to bring new resources to the organization and find new partners to support our students. I love being able to help someone develop additional skills for sustainable employment so they and their family can have a better life.

Due to the pandemic, our office is currently closed. Luckily, we’ve been able to hold most of our programs online. We just had 18 participants complete our most recent new training, a Women’s Career Development Series. It was very rewarding to see them learn and grow from this training. The purpose of the series was to teach participants how to navigate a non-traditional career (such as construction as a Latina woman), career readiness and transferable skills, options in higher education, goal setting, what employers look for in a job candidate, resume building, interviewing skills and mock interviews, and financial literacy. We empowered a total of 18 women with resources and new skills. 

Our participants are a mix—some are new to the U.S. while others have been here a while. Some are fluent in English, others aren’t. The common denominator is that they want a better future for themselves and their families. The Latino Academy conducted a survey two weeks after the pandemic started and we discovered that 85% of participants reported a significant loss of income due to unemployment or loss of hours. Also, 80% of those respondents were employed in restaurants, hotels, and other jobs at high risk of being affected by the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has made the Latino Academy implement immediate changes to our classes and training programs. We are constantly connecting with employers to see what employment opportunities are available during this pandemic and how we can support our participants applying for those opportunities.

On Saturday, May 30, 2020, the Latino Academy and the Urban League celebrated an important milestone: we hosted our first virtual graduation ceremony. A total of 17 students obtained their CDL Class B licenses. The virtual graduation was a very successful event. They were so proud of themselves—and I was so proud of them too. Many of them were working—sometimes multiple jobs—on top of attending classes. They’re amazing! 

My most memorable caffeine was the coffee I’d drink with my grandparents back in Mexico. They were big coffee drinkers and had coffee at least three times a day. I remember being about five years old and going to my grandparents’ house every day. My grandmother would give me a cup of her coffee—which she made by combining five spoons of coffee and three spoons of sugar. It was delicious! But then my mom found out, and no more coffee!

My current caffeine of choice is either the honey lavender coffee at Barriques or the café de olla at La Mestiza. Also, I love cafecito Cubano, but I haven’t found an authentic cafecito Cubano here in Madison.

My favorite places for caffeine are Barriques and La Mestiza.

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is Michelle Obama

As a woman of color, she’s definitely one of my role models. And I appreciate that she’s continued making positive changes in the world, even after leaving the White House. She’s still supporting our community and more importantly women of color like myself.

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: I would solve this pandemic and help organizations and schools fully reopen without any fear. Since I can’t solve this pandemic with the right amount of caffeine…my commitment is to help my community adjust to the new normal by providing training, resources, and a path to sustainable employment. 

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