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Dalton/Whitfield Latino Leadership Institute looks to increase Latino representation

The LAA opened the Dalton Outreach Center in 2019 to improve access to critically needed services and resources for the rapidly-growing Latino community in northwest Georgia. The expansion into Dalton was made possible thanks to the partnership and commitment of Mohawk Industries. Four years later, the LAA is celebrating the launch of the Dalton/Whitfield Latino Leadership Institute.

Since the opening of the outreach center (until Dec 2022), the LAA has impacted over 8,000 lives through our services; partnered with Dalton State College for several Youth Leadership Conferences and a Scholarship program; held multiple events at the Mack Gaston Community Center, including the town’s traditional Erwin Mitchell Health Fair; and participated in many community meetings advocating for Latinos in the area. Earlier this year, the LAA also extended its services in Dalton with the opening of the second outreach center in the Mack Gaston Community Center.

According to the 2022 Census data, Dalton’s population is 52.5% Hispanic or Latino. But yet, there is no representation at the state government level or local governments like the city council or county commissioner level. 

The LAA alongside Mohawk Industries is trying to fix this problem. Santiago Marquez, the LAA’s CEO, and Maria Guzman, Sr. Director of Human Resources at Mohawk, identified that although “leadership is for everyone, we are having a hard time getting Latinos involved in leadership positions and opportunities”.

This is why the Dalton/Whitfield Latino Leadership Institute in partnership with the UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development was established. The Fanning Institute was founded in 1982, the Institute is named for UGA’s first Vice President for Services, Dr. J.W. Fanning. His legacy of leadership development is embodied in the Institute’s dedication to developing leaders of all ages, in every community, from all walks of life.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Dalton/Whitfield Latino Leadership Institute
Dalton/Whitfield Latino Leadership Institute

“I hope this is the beginning of a revolution in Northwest Georgia where we get the community engaged and in positions of leadership. You can’t have a town that is 52.5% Latino and have no Latino leadership,” Santiago says after being asked what he is expecting from the new program in Dalton.

According to Maria Guzman, this program will equip young leaders with the right tools, initiatives and connections to be able to interact better and differently in the community. Her expectation is for the “cohort to collaborate, bring in new initiatives and really engage with the entire community in this area to positively impact the entire Dalton and Whitfield area.” She explains that it is very important for Mohawk to support the next generation of Latinos through the leadership institute as they look for them to participate in civic engagement, community engagement and workforce development.

Rafael Huerta, the LAA Outreach Director in Northwest Georgia, has lived in Dalton since 1994. When he moved to the area, “I came to this exact building to apply for my first job with Mohawk. Now I am working here for the LAA. It really is full circle” (The LAA’s office in Dalton is located in Mohawk’s Green Plant facilities). Rafa, as we like to call him in the office, has a deep passion to help people and when selecting the inaugural cohort for the leadership institute, he made sure that we chose people who have a heart and patience for the community. He says, “this program is not only a leadership course that ends in June, instead is the beginning of a future and better opportunities for our community.”

When talking to several cohort members, they all expressed their enthusiasm to better themselves to better their communities.

Adan Amaro, the director of production planning at Mohawk Industries, says “part of what I want to learn is how to become a better leader and apply whatever I learn here back in Dalton and the Whitfield county community so we are able to support those that are up and coming.”

Norma Barragan, the community engagement coordinator with United Way of Northwest Georgia, looks forward to receiving the necessary tools to be in leadership positions within her community “to have better representations across the board”.

This program was developed from conversations with the City of Dalton officials and leaders who understand that there is a need for the community in Dalton. This is a challenge for the first cohort to graduate and do something with it! Don’t let it sit. Find somewhere to lead and somewhere to engage. This program looks to revolutionize the leadership community in Dalton.

At the LAA, we look forward to seeing the future achievements of the inaugural cohort of the Dalton/Whitfield Leadership Institute!

The first cohort for the Dalton/Whitfield Latino Leadership Institute is currently undergoing its second session and they will be graduating in June. The opportunity to apply for the second cohort will be announced in the last quarter of the year.

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