Simply getting by isn’t enough for Jordana Vera-Montero. She longs for more – more knowledge, opportunities, community involvement and giving.
It is this quest to take advantage of every opportunity that drove her to co-found the Alliance for Leadership, Advancement and Success with the mission of spreading the word about the value of education.
“ALAS was created to serve others through knowledge and empowerment,” says Vera-Montero, student success adviser at Ozarks Technical Community College. “There is lack of information in the Latino community about how to get access to an education beyond high school. I am part of the community, and I have developed a close relationship with its members. I know the concerns and questions families have about college.”
Through a grant received by Community Foundation of the Ozarks, ALAS created a mentoring program in partnership with other groups, such as the Hand in Hand Multicultural Center, that connects professionals with college students or recent graduates to encourage them to become civically involved.
“From personal experience, I know that having a mentor helped me envision a career and made me feel included,” Vera-Montero says. “My mentor gave me the answers to the questions I did not even know I had. I want to give back that opportunity to all the people who knock on the doors of ALAS.”
She’s especially proud of ALAS’ Latino Leadership and Advocacy Project, which recently graduated 17 community navigators prepared to advocate for their children with developmental disabilities and help other people in a similar situation do the same.
“It was the first time that the Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council awarded a grant to a local nonprofit organization to create a program specially designed for the Latino community in Springfield,” Vera-Montero says. “We now have a support group in the community for Latino parents of children with disabilities and for adults with disabilities.”
Last year, she spoke to the Mental Health Commission in Jefferson City about gaps and barriers experienced in the Latino community, and she has participated in Missouri’s Partners in Policymaking program as the mother of a young son with autism to learn how to fight for his right to inclusion.
“He is one of the reasons ALAS exists. My passion for justice and equality comes from the love I have for my son. He gives me every day the fuel I need to make services more attainable for all. He teaches me to believe in myself and to keep fighting for what I believe is right.”
Vera-Montero believes advocating for change means taking action, even when it’s uncomfortable. She wants to help remove for others the roadblocks around which she’s navigated.
“What I do every day at OTC as a student success adviser and at ALAS, developing and implementing programs for the benefit of the community, is not just a job. It is who I am,” she says.
The Forward SGF comprehensive plan was born from the input of residents, and one message that came through loud and clear was their desire for connection.