We build women’s collective power in the U.S.

January 29, 2024

Grantee Partner Spotlight: Este Poder

by Arely Cruz

The Ms. Foundation is proud to support our grantee partners, who are at the forefront of organizing and creating solutions that improve people’s lives and bring us closer to achieving a true democracy. The insight and perspective they provide is invaluable. The Q&A below was generated by Arely Cruz, Communications Associate at Este Poder.

Este Poder was founded on the notion of cultivating civic engagement within rural communities. They aim to invigorate passion and critical thinking throughout rural East Texas. Their objective is to challenge established structures that have perpetually marginalized and oppressed through social, economic, and racial frameworks. Este Poder is a Ms. South grantee partner.

What brought you to this work? 

At heart, what brought all of Este Poder to the work that we do today are our lived experiences. For many of us, this involved noticing patterns of racial/ethnic discrimination and poverty when we were just kids. Where behind the everyday chatter there is a veil of disdain if you come from a certain school or neighborhood. From Este Poder’s co-founders to our current staff, we have all shared the experience of being “othered” in this country. 

Despite our shared struggles, we also shared the responsibility of speaking up on behalf of our communities. We came to this work with frustration, determination, and a deep love for the communities that raised us. 

How do you connect/collaborate in your community? Who are your key partners? 

We take pride in having our start in block walks, canvassing, and literature drops. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we sustained these same systems of communication while adding on webinars to local Facebook groups. We remain rooted in our purpose to connect with our community at any extent we can. 

Our Young Texans’ Civic Engagement program has also granted us the opportunity to collaborate with high school districts and local universities to get out the vote. Meanwhile, our Engaging East Texas program has allowed us to take part in impactful events such as back-to-school supply drives, Pride celebrations, and churches, building partnerships with local organizations such as Tyler Area Gays and Smith County League of Women Voters. 

What are you learning or what are you teaching?

We learn daily about the needs of others within the community. Parents want their children’s safety guaranteed, students care about the environment, and others are worried about the lack of accessible health care. Individuals from all walks of life voice their concerns to us and we make it a priority to not forget.

In return, we aim to educate the community at large about why East Texas plays an important role in restructuring the state we love into a more just place to live. We offer educational workshops on civic engagement, service referrals, emergency resources, and advocacy. Above all, we emphasize the importance of becoming involved by voting and more. 

Tell us about a recent victory or something you’re proud of. 

One of our most meaningful feats has been engaging with first-time and future voters. Just this May, Chapel Hill Independent School District approved three bonds for school infrastructure improvements for the first time in over 20 years. Este Poder played a pivotal role in this as we ensured constituents were informed, attended school meetings, and registered those eligible to vote. Recently, Este Poder was welcomed into high school classrooms for National Voter Education Week to speak on the importance of civic engagement. Is it both moving and exciting to see the response and support from students, staff, teachers, and families surrounding voting and know our involvement in these victories. 

What can philanthropy do better and/or how can individuals be helpful allies? 

Philanthropy has made significant strides in expanding funding avenues for smaller organizations, recognizing the crucial role they play. Offering opportunities to small or modestly sized organizations is paramount. The initial funding these organizations receive serves as a gateway to diverse funding streams, fostering network growth, and building a stronger relationship with philanthropy. When a foundation expresses faith in an organization, it often sparks a chain reaction, inspiring other foundations to join in support. Funding in philanthropy is especially impactful when it isn’t confined to specific programs, offering boundless possibilities for financing organizations dedicated to social and justice initiatives, and many more causes. Also, placing the interest of the recipient (organization) of funds as a priority will drive a more fluid approach and relationship between philanthropy and organizations.  

What gives you hope?

Este Poder has hope because we envision the world we want to live in. A world where we have access to healthcare, thriving wages, and a fair democracy. We fundamentally understand the importance of placing our communities’ needs at the forefront of our mission and working alongside them to achieve them. In doing this, we have gained a deeper understanding of rural East Texas communities of color. Building a relationship with them has given us the hope necessary to build power in our community and work towards reaching the world we want to live in.