Alumni Spotlight: Claudia Espinosa (MPA 2013)

Claudia Espinosa

Founding a nonprofit organization was not the direction Claudia Espinosa (MPA 2013) thought that her life would take when she moved to New York City from Colombia in 2000. Espinosa always wanted to have a career that would allow her to help others, and she believes that destiny set her on her path when she landed a job at a suicide prevention program working with Latina young women. That job gave her insight into the nonprofit sector and the challenges affecting young Latinas, which led her to found her organization while pursuing her degree at NYU Wagner.

Espinosa’s drive to help people guided her. Her work with the suicide prevention program was particularly influential. She served as an intake counselor, working specifically with Latina girls in New York City. Here, she found her experience moving to New York from Colombia and the challenges she faced allowed her to relate to the issues the girls were having. When she left the position, she recalls telling the girls she worked with that she would do something to make sure they had plenty of reasons to live a hopeful and bright life. The juxtaposition of having that job and beginning her time as an NYU student changed her life.

Following a period working at Big Brothers Big Sisters, Espinosa decided to explore an idea to create an organization dedicated to mentoring Latina girls to fulfill her promise to the girls. In 2011, she began planning a pilot program through NYU, supported by the Latino Studies program at the NYU Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and the NYU Center for Multicultural Education and Programs. She recruited NYU undergraduates to serve as mentors and starting in the spring of 2012, the pilot program kicked off with mentoring sessions at NYU, bringing in Latina girls living in the Lower East Side and attending high schools in the neighborhood. That pilot program was the foundation of the programming offered through Latinas On the Verge of Excellence - L.O.V.E., the nonprofit organization Espinosa now runs.

Espinosa recalls using every skill she learned through her time at NYU to create L.O.V.E. She stated:

“What I learned through my Wagner education is something I still use to this day. Every class I took while pursuing my degree was vital to create my nonprofit.

For members of the Wagner community who wish to create their own nonprofits as well, Espinosa has the following advice:

“In creating a nonprofit organization, you have to know what’s different about your organization. What makes it special? When I first launched [L.O.V.E.], and I believe still today, there was not one nonprofit just for Latina students in New York City, so that’s what makes L.O.V.E. special. There are many social problems, so you have to know the why--what it is that makes your nonprofit special enough to develop a brand new one. Before you even create your organization, you have to answer that question because you’re going to be answering it forever.”

When asked about what’s next for her, Espinosa reflected on her journey to this point:

“I’m now back at NYU getting a doctorate in education. I want to create a L.O.V.E. school. It’s so interesting because I find myself in exactly the same place [as when I started my nonprofit]. I have no idea how to create a school, but I feel that because I did it once, I’m going to be able to do it again, and the overarching goal is the same. That’s my personal goal now--to use all my education to empower one young woman at a time.”

For more information about L.O.V.E., you can visit their website.