News Archives - 2001
Eloisa Echávez: Seizing La Oportunidad
"I hate it with all my guts," says Eloisa Echávez with a chuckle, referring to Minnesota's cold winter weather. "Every year I say it's my last year, but I find myself here again." Coming from Colombia, South America, this is no surprise. But Echávez's involvement with the Latino community in the Twin Cities and her passion for her work keeps her here, despite the winters.
Echávez is executive director of La Oportunidad, Inc., a local nonprofit organization serving more than 2,000 Latino families each year that works to promote and strengthen peace within the community. Started in 1987, La Oportunidad's main focus was on promoting transitional services to ex-offenders. Under Echávez's leadership, the organization has developed a three-year strategic plan with a new vision for a stronger, more peaceful community. Today, La Oportunidad focuses on peacemaking and many new programs including violence prevention and Latino youth services.
"I absolutely love the peacemaking aspect," says Echávez, who has been with the organization since 1998. "La Oportunidad looks at making peace within the self, within the family, within neighbors—even within a global perspective. This work relates to my personal values."
Echávez was an elementary school teacher for three years in Colombia before coming to the U.S. in 1988. She had wanted to study in the U.S. and heard about many colleges, including Augsburg's Weekend College program. Echávez attended one meeting at Augsburg and left the meeting signed up for classes.
In 1994, Echávez received a B.A in computer science and returned to receive a master's degree in education and leadership in 1998.
Echávez's relationship with Augsburg doesn't end with her education—she also directed the College's Hispanic/Latino Student Services from 1993-98, helping to develop and manage the program since its inception (she continues to stay involved with the program). She also coordinated Augsburg's Teachers of Color Program and served as the College's multicultural coordinator from 1993-97.
In addition to her work, Echávez somehow manages to find time to fulfill her love of motivational/keynote speaking at numerous conferences and special events. Echávez's favorite audiences are high school and pre-college students.
"I like to improvise," says Echávez. "I never prepare a speech until I get on the stage." Talking to the audience beforehand gives Echávez an idea of the direction she'll take during her speech.
For her work with the community, Echávez has received several awards and certificates, including the Outstanding Community Service Award from the State of Minnesota and the Educator of the Year Award from INROADS (a national organization that develops and places talented minority youth into businesses to prepare them for corporate and community leadership). Echávez helped to develop Augsburg's partnership with INROADS through her various roles and activities at the College.
"My best reward is seeing the students who are taking advantage of INROADS' opportunities to be successful, and becoming those needed leaders in our communities of color," Echávez said upon receiving her award from INROADS.