YWCA advocate got her start at Mariposa

Ana Ayala-Sanchez has great memories of her first experience with the YWCA. She was a fifth-grader at Meadowbrook in College Place, and her teachers and friends encouraged her to join Mariposa, the YWCA’s leadership and life skills program for young Latina girls. “A lot of my friends that I grew up with were in it,” says Ana. Her parents were farm workers, and though she didn’t live in the farm labor camp, many of her friends did. One of her favorite activities was a visit to the YWCA. “We got to dress up and get our hair and makeup done. I got really close to all the girls. To this day I know how they’re doing and they’re really good friends.”

Ana’s first job was through the Blue Mountain Action Council as an afterschool tutor at Blue Ridge Elementary. “The girls I was tutoring were in the Mariposa program!” While tutoring, she began studying at Walla Walla Community College, then transferred to Washington State University to pursue a degree in human development with a minor in psychology and an emphasis in family studies. “I wanted more education. I became ambitious!”

Giving back. Part of the requirement for my degree at WSU,” Ana says, “was to get an internship.” She was excited to discover she could intern at the YWCA of Walla Walla. “I was like, that would be awesome! Even when I was smaller I knew I would want to work at a place like the YWCA.” Her internship, which led to a full-time job as an Advocate, helped Ana decide that she was on the right path.

When she works with Girls Circle, an afterschool girls empowerment program in Dayton, she says, “I tell the girls I used to be in a program like this. They know I went to college, and we’re trying to let them know it’s a good thing to further their education.”

What’s next? As much as she enjoys her work as a YWCA advocate, Ana has never considered not going on for more education.”Once I graduated with my four-year degree, I knew I wanted to do more. I realized, I can do it and I believe in myself!” In September she will begin her master’s in social work at the University of Washington. She isn’t sure exactly where that will take her, but she wants to continue to help people and perhaps learn more about how to put the legal system to work for her clients. “I really like the legal piece–helping women get protection orders and work with the system.”

And she continues to look out for girls. “Hopefully I can be an example to my sister and the little girls in Girls Circle.” At family gatherings, Ana has found that she and her sister, who will soon be the second member of their family to graduate from college, are a resource to her cousins and nieces. “They ask me, ‘How did you apply to college? How do you get scholarships?’ I feel proud that we can help and that they look up to us.”