Diverse Leaders of Today & Tomorrow.

Our Program

Nadyne speaking

The Latina Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines (LLI) is the only leadership development program in Iowa focused on Latinas. It fills a gap in the lack of culturally appropriate leadership training for promising Latina women.

Through the Latina Leadership Initiative Iowa has more young, powerful and well-educated Latinas serving on boards, commissions and other leadership capacities. LLI graduates are prepared for these roles because of the nurturing, mentoring and skill development they receive through the program.

LLI uses a unique curriculum developed by the founders that infuses traditional leadership development training with three unique areas of focus:

  • Gender
  • Culture
  • Local impact

The curriculum addresses empowerment; teamwork and community building; culture, language and social changes; public speaking; career development and advancement; Latino history and migration patterns in Iowa; networking; health issues affecting the Latina community; how to run meetings, plan projects and prepare budgets, and many other topics.

This, along with the help of the program’s mentors, creates an all-encompassing experience that allows participants to see exactly how each topic affects them, and how their talents can, in turn, affect change in those areas.

The LLI curriculum promotes heightened awareness of social responsibility and attention to the needs of the local Hispanic community, and is based on the principle that development of young Latina leaders enhances our entire community.



Who is eligible?

Daisy - Sepia Rocio - SepiaWomen who identify as Latinas, ages 20 to 34 years old who have completed high school (or equivalent), and are in the beginning stages of their careers can be selected to participate in LLI.

Each applicant undergoes a competitive selection process and only those who are committed to fulfilling all the requirements of the program will be selected to participate. The cost to participate is $300.


  • Attending ten 6-hour class sessions on the first and third Saturday from September through March
  • Completing a six-month community service project from November through April
  • Working with an assigned mentor

See Upcoming Events for exact class dates. All classes are from 10AM-4PM. Snacks and lunch provided. Child care is not provided.

There are scholarship opportunities available. Please do not let the cost stop you from applying. LLI is committed to working with applicants so that cost is not a barrier to participation.

Please contact us, or indicate your desire to learn more about scholarship opportunities and payment plans in the application.

Many employers cover the cost. Please refer to your HR representative to see if your employer covers tuition as part of employee development.

Total cost is NOT required at the time of application, just the $25 application fee, which goes towards tuition if you are selected.

Board of Directors

Paula Plasencia, ChairPaula

  • Community & Cultural Liaison, Dowling Catholic High School
  • Founder, Iowa’s Latino History Museum
  • Representative, Diocesan Hispanic Pastoral Commission


La Reina photoAlba Perez, Vice Chair

  • Client Relations Director, Coopera Consulting
  • 2004 – Forty Under 40 Honoree – Business Record Publications
  • 2004 – Latina Business Leader Award 2004 – State of Iowa
  • 2007 – Passport to Prosperity Honoree – Iowa Council for International Understanding
  • 2013 – Women of Influence Honoree – Iowa Business Record

Maria Mayorga, Secretary


Sarah RyanSarah Ryan, Treasurer

  • Investment and Product Proposal Specialist at Principal Financial Group
  • Vice-Chair Hispanic/Latino Employee Resource Group
    Principal Financial Group


ScottScott Frost

  • Trustee and on the Finance Council for Sacred Heart, the Board of Development for the Diocese of Des Moines school board
  • Member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher



Renee Hardman

  • President, Hardman Consulting, LLC
  • Board Member, Dress for Success – Des Moines Affiliate
  • President/Member of National Nomination Committee – Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
  • Member, 5th Judicial Nominating Commission, Governor Appointee
  • Trustee, Des Moines University
  • Board Member, Board Development Committee, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa
  • Board Member, Character Counts! In Iowa
  • Member and Past President, Des Moines Chapter of The Links, Inc.


KatieKatie Hernandez

  • Project Manager, Greater Des Moines Partnership: Workforce Development/Education and Regional Business Development
  • Culver-Stockton College Alumni Board member




KimKim Tarbox






Dr. Darcie Van de Grift

  • Chair of the Department for the Study of Culture & Society, Drake University
  • Youth Studies Scholar and active mentor of student’s community engagement



Jon Wolseth

  • Community and Economic Development Field Specialist, Iowa State University Extension
  • Author: Tillage Practices, the Language of Blame and Responsibility for Water Quality Impacts in Row Crop Agriculture, Circulating Through the System: Juvenile Justice and The Mobile Lives of Street Children in the Dominican Republic, Learning on the Streets: Child Peer Socialization in Adverse Environments. IN Anthropological Perspectives on Learning in Childhood, David F. Lancy, John Bock and Suzanne Gaskins, eds.




VDCVivian de la Cruz, Executive Director

  • LLI Class of 2015 Alum
  • LLI Past Chair
  • Asset Development Associate
  • Iowa State University graduate with a BS in Financial Counseling and Planning with an emphasis in Family Financial Services.
  • Founding member of the Latina Leadership Initiative Alumni Association (LLIAA).



Sonia Parras Konrad, Immigration and Deportation Defense Attorney and owner of Sonia Parras Law Firm in Des Moines

  • LULAC’s 2013 Leadership Award Recipient
  • 40 Under 40 Honoree
  • Founder, Asista Immigrant Assistance
  • Native of Spain

The creation of LLI is based on the principle that development of young Latina leaders will contribute to the Greater Des Moines community because Iowa is an increasingly diverse state. The Latino population in Iowa increased almost 84 percent from the 2000 U.S. Census to more than 158,000 residents, or 5 percent of Iowa’s 3 million residents as of 2011, according to the State Data Center of Iowa. About 12 percent of the state’s Latinos live in Polk County, with about 25,000 living in Des Moines.

With the rapidly growing sector of the Latino population, the Des Moines metro area is in need of leadership programs that specifically target this community. Beyond the growth in population, the LLI is needed to encourage Latinas to further their education and to expand their work opportunities in order to create better lives for themselves and their families as evidenced in the below statistics:

  • Latinas account for 46 percent of all Latinos in Iowa. Hispanic and Latina women are less likely to graduate from high school or to receive a college diploma than other women.
  • In 2005, it was reported that almost 91 percent of white women older than 25 had a high school diploma. The number is significantly lower for Latinas: Only 57.6 percent had a high school degree.
  • About 23 percent of white women have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 8 percent of Latinas.
  • Nationally, 64 percent of Latina women ages 20 to 64 are in the workforce compared to 72 percent of white women. Part of this can be explained by the fact that 71 percent of Latino families have children younger than 18 compared for 44 percent of other families.
  • The unemployment rate for Latinos in Iowa was 8.2 percent in 2009 compared to 4.1 percent for all other Iowans.

Iowa women made up just less than 50 percent of those who served on state boards and commissions in December 2006, according to the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women Report. Latinas represented 1.5 percent of those appointees, while they make up 2.5 percent of the Iowa population. Currently, there are six Latinas who hold elected office at the city or school board level or higher throughout the state of Iowa.