Laura Piña has always been community-minded.
A first-generation American, she grew up in mostly-Latino elementary schools before the “culture shock” of going to a mostly-white high school. To help other young Latino students, she co-founded Latinos Unidos at UW-Rock County, where she started college before transferring to finish a degree in international studies at UW-Whitewater.
“I got to be in a group where I felt like I belonged,” she said. “And then I realized just doing all this work that I wanted to contribute back to my city, back to Janesville.”
She’s taught English in church basements. She volunteers as the Latino Liaison with the Janesville Police Department.
But as graduation approached, she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do.
“Initially, I was kind of all over the place with what I wanted to do with my career,” after graduating in December. One thing was clear though: “The goal was to help people.”
Piña found the opportunity to do that at the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, where she started a month ago as workforce manager.
The Latino Academy provides education and job training for workers, and connects those workers with employers who need talent.
“I help oversee the workforce department of Latino Academy. I help out the (workforce) director,” Piña said. “I help our workforce coaches go hands on with the students and learn from their experiences, as well as even trying to kind of see what is out there for our students and how we can help them get those opportunities as best as we can.”
Piña said she wasn’t familiar with the Latino Academy before applying for the job, but finds herself aligned with the mission.
“Coming to this Academy has taught me that there are people that want to help our Hispanic community come out and use their abilities into the workforce. And that’s why I really like being here,” she said.
Executive Director Baltazar De Anda Santana said it was Piña’s commitment to community that won the Academy over.
“The first time we interviewed her, it was very, very clear that she was passionate, she had the energy. And she had the commitment to the community,” he said. “At Latino Academy, we have the values of respect, equity, integrity, growth, and innovation in community. When I was talking with Laura, everything that she was saying, she was checking all those boxes. We are excited to have her to be part of the team.”
Piña’s hire is part of a larger growth strategy for the Academy. For a little over a decade, the Latino Academy of Workforce Development had been an organization within the Vera Court Neighborhood Center, Inc. Earlier this year, the Latino Academy became an independent nonprofit organization with three employees. Now it has five; by the end of the month, it’ll be seven.
Piña appreciates being part of this moment.
“I’m part of that history that they’re becoming independent,” she said. “We’re literally walking history in this moment. We don’t know what’s gonna happen in 10 years. But in those 10 years, I’m going to be mentioned as one of the people that helped out.”