Empowering voices: The impact of Rural Prosperity Nebraska on a Hispanic women group

Nasrin Nawa | 

October 18, 2023


Rural Prosperity Nebraska, an Extension program, empowers a dynamic group of Hispanic women in Columbus through biweekly sessions encompassing a wide spectrum of topics, including social, cultural, health, leadership and life skills. Maria Cantu Hines, a dedicated Extension educator, travels two hours every other Saturday to join this group in Columbus since the beginning of 2023. 

For Hines, it is nourishing to her "soul." "I eagerly anticipate our gatherings," she said. "It feels like they provide me with as much inspiration as I offer them. The energy is reciprocal, and it enriches me personally."

It all began with a brief two-hour workshop on "social determinants of health" presented by Hines. The women found it immensely valuable and voiced their desire to continue exploring various health-related subjects, ideally once a month. Hines readily embraced this suggestion and transformed it into a regular monthly event. Initially, the group consisted of around 10 people, but it gradually grew to more than 30 participants. 

"The thought crossed my mind, 'Do I truly want to dedicate yet another Saturday of my time?' "Hines said. "But then I just remembered the energy and the engagement they bring, and I can't wait to see them again. They feed my soul." They subsequently began holding two regular monthly sessions, incorporating more social activities and fostering a spirit of camaraderie. 

The women's group comprises Hispanic immigrant women aged 20 to 70, hailing from different countries including El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia. The majority of these women have already become U.S. citizens residing in Columbus. 

These sessions occasionally feature guest speakers who address an array of subjects encompassing lifestyle, self-care, health, leadership and social/cultural facets. The objective is to help the women acclimate more smoothly to U.S. culture, fostering learning and a sense of belonging. 

"We are really trying to touch on different perspectives of being a woman," Hines emphasized. Nonetheless, these gatherings are not limited to serious discussions alone. The women occasionally come together for potluck meals, concluding their meetings with lively dancing, singing, engaging conversations, and planning for enjoyable activities.

"These interactions offer them a platform to form lasting friendships, share personal challenges, collectively devise solutions and, most importantly, feel valued and heard," said Hines.

Maria Mercedes Borda, a participant, indicated the transformative power of these sessions, saying they've empowered her to make more informed decisions and have improved her life. Blanca Alvarez, another participant, chimed in, highlighting how this project has allowed her and others to "find their voices in the community." 

Solange Monroy Valenci, adult education director at Centro Hispano who initiated this group of women, articulated her vision: "This initiative took shape earlier this year due to my concern that women lacked a dedicated space — an opportunity to focus on themselves, momentarily distancing themselves from their roles as mothers, wives and homemakers. These women needed such a space where women could freely express themselves." 

Valenci expressed deep appreciation for the partnership with Maria Cantu Hines, which brings the university's resources including research and information, to this group of Hispanic women. This effort extends its positive impact on their families and the broader community. Monroy Valenci underscored the significance of empowering and informing women, asserting that knowledge equips them to confront life's challenges with greater resilience and adaptability. 

Carolina Ortiz, another enthusiastic participant, shared her joy at being part of this group, emphasizing its potential to contribute positively to Latino women and their families. Many members are mothers, she said, and their collective efforts can catalyze positive change for future generations.