I am proud to call Adela Mendoza my friend. She is a remarkable woman who is making a
difference in our community by opening many doors for others. Mendoza is an international
professional skilled at building strategic collaborative partnerships, facilitating cross-cultural
relationships, and leading diverse teams and coalitions. She is a Liberty Fellow and an Aspen
Institute Ideas Scholar serving as the Executive Director of the Hispanic Alliance of South
Carolina. You can find Adela at almost any leadership table in Greenville where the discussion is
focused on our emerging Hispanic population.
The Hispanic Alliance is an exciting social enterprise created to serve as a vehicle for
communication and collaboration between the Hispanic/Latino and the broader community. It
convenes the largest network of agencies and individuals in the Upstate to work collaboratively
to understand and serve the complex needs of our growing Hispanic population and ensure its
inclusion and success in a growing global economy.
The Alliance does much of its work through its cross-sector strategic partnerships and
community teams focused on key priority areas: Education, Financial Stability, Health, and
access to Legal services. These teams are the pillars of the organization. Within their priority
area, each team identifies the gaps between needs and resources, avoids duplication of
services, and builds collective capacity to serve the Hispanic community.
The Education Team chaired by Julio Hernandez, the Associate Director for Hispanic Outreach
at Clemson University, has more than 80 active team members aligning collective strategies to
build access and opportunity. The goals for this team are increasing the high school graduation
rate for Hispanic youth and building collaborations with local higher education institutions to
increase Hispanic enrollment and graduation.
An innovative initiative stemming out of this team is the Student DREAMers Alliance (SDA), a
leadership accelerator launched in 2016 to empower and magnify a voice from within
immigrant student communities. Its mission is to increase awareness of education inequity and
advocate for changes in state legislation to achieve equal access to public, post-secondary
education for all youth.
SDA was inspired by the Aspen Institute’s and Liberty Fellowship’s approach to fostering
enlightened, values-based leadership. The program, funded by the Sisters of Charity
Foundation of South Carolina, is an intensive, six-session intervention for a select group
high-achieving Hispanic youth facing barriers to higher education. SDA provides students a
space for self-discovery and the resources needed to unleash their potential, develop
resilience, and position them for success and leadership.
SDA brings together emerging young leaders with established national influencers and Aspen
moderators to deepen students’ understanding of social challenges, broaden their
perspective, and explore their role in building a better society for everyone in our state.
The SDA was featured at the Aspen Institute this summer as an innovative model to accelerate
access to post-secondary education and diverse leadership in South Carolina. One of the key
aspects of the model is its holistic approach to building an infrastructure to connect these
students to national Dreamer networks and local exemplary student leaders such as Keny
Keny is a senior at Furman University, where he is majoring in biology and serves as the current
Vice-President of the Hispanic Organization of Learning and Awareness (HOLA). He encouraged
the SDA students by openly sharing his personal journey. Originally from Honduras, Keny made
his journey to the U.S. from Honduras at the age of 9 and settled in Durham, North Carolina. In
high school he was a straight A student earning honors, holding offices in a variety
organizations and graduating in the top 10 of his class. Unfortunately, with all of his accolades
Keny was not able to afford college after graduation due to his immigration status.
Nonetheless, Keny didn’t give up on his pursuit of education. At times, Keny held three jobs
while attending his local community college to get a step closer to his dream of attending
medical school. Keny worked as a medical interpreter at Duke University Medical Center to save
money for college while applying for scholarships.
His perseverance paid off, and he was selected as a recipient of a Golden Doors Scholarship, an
extremely competitive fund with a pay-it- forward approach to sustainability. Since 2013,
Golden Doors has awarded scholarships to 158 exceptional undocumented students with more
than 3500 students applying. Keny received a full ride to Furman University.
Keny will graduate in December. He maintains an excellent GPA to support his dream of going
to medical school. He is involved in the community as an intern with the Hispanic Alliance, as a
volunteer interpreter at the Greenville Free Medical Clinic, and as an advocate for Dreamers.
This young man’s story exemplifies the leadership qualities that the SDA program is seeking to
develop in its program participants. Keny was able to open their eyes to the possibilities and
inspire them as they plan for their futures.
It is so important to our state’s success to develop these future leaders. The SDA students are
true assets, and if given the opportunity, they will build strong, inclusive, and thriving
communities. SDA is helping them build a support network, which will empower them as
advocates and help them blossom as leaders in their communities and beyond.
Mendoza has made a national pledge through Liberty Fellowship and the Aspen Institute to
build leadership development and self-discovery opportunities to prepare 20 emerging Hispanic
leaders in South Carolina to collaborate and lead across cultures and sectors by 2018. She
describes SDA as “a bold and intentional step towards developing the next generation of
diverse leaders that can take South Carolina into a more prosperous future. This is only the first
strategy towards building the exemplary, diverse, and high integrity leadership our country needs.”