The ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative is a groundbreaking partnership between ANN INC.,parent company of Ann Taylor, LOFT and Lou & Grey; and Vital Voices, which seeks to empower young women from across the U.S. with the leadership skills they need to affect global progress, invest in their communities and begin their journeys as the next generation of leaders. Laura Robert-Rivera is a 2013 ANNpower Fellow who attended the 2013 Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. Laura has received ANNpower Projects Grants in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Every story starts with the decision to achieve a goal. My goal is standing up to child abuse.
My name is Laura Robert-Rivera and I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I have dedicated most of my life to community service and trying to make a difference. At the age of twelve, I found my true passion: standing up to child abuse. In Puerto Rico, 32,000 children are victims of abuse every year. In the United States, 3 children die each day from abuse. I refuse to accept this reality, and I will keep working curb the prevalence of child abuse in my local community and beyond. Thanks to the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, I have gained the tools and leadership to dedicate the last three years to achieving this goal.
It’s not only about helping the victims of abuse but creating awareness and minimizing the number of victims. To do this, I started a child abuse prevention campaign at two schools in my community with the support of Puerto Rico’s Department of Family Affairs. Both projects have allowed me to learn about the long lasting effects of abuse, the need to help the victims and the need to educate the population in general.
In 2013, I was selected as an ANNpower Fellow. This experience changed my life. During the 2013 ANNpower Leadership Forum, I met extraordinary women from all around the world who imparted invaluable lessons which I then took back with me to Puerto Rico. I intended to use the skills I learned at ANNpower Vital Voices, such as the principles of leadership, knowledge building and communication and problem-solving methods to take my campaign a few steps further. While continuing to support the shelter and work with several NGO’s, I also created a week-long child abuse awareness and prevention program with banners, flyers, wrist bands, stickers and speakers to impact the 800 students in my school.
That summer, I submitted a grant application to the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative for my project: “Levantate… Dile No Al Maltrato” (Stand UP, Say No to Child Abuse). I was awarded a grant to recreate and duplicate the prevention and awareness campaign in thirty more schools. I trained groups of young leaders in each school and gave them the instructions, materials and leadership tools needed to conduct the campaign. The campaign was organized by high school youth leaders across thirty-six schools in Puerto Rico and impacted more than 10,000 people.
Last year, I was awarded a second grant from the ANNpower Vital Voices, for a new project called Stand Up, G.I.R.L. The goal of this initiative was to recruit girls from the “Levantate… Dile No Al Maltrato” campaign’s participating schools and to bring them to a three-day leadership summit. During the summit, the participants were exposed to inspiring role models, leadership and empowerment techniques.
Attending the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum helped me see beyond my borders, and helped me define my career goals. It gave me the opportunity to meet extraordinary women and leaders who share a common message: to truly make an impact in the world, you have to get involved in politics. I realized if I wait for others to take charge, I will be forever waiting.
This year, I started my college career at Barnard College, Columbia University, in New York. I hope to double major in Human Rights and Economics as I believe that studying these areas will provide me with the tools to understand economic patterns and how they affect the world. This education will provide me with the knowledge I need to understand people’s necessities and help them find solutions. I hope to further my education and eventually obtain a law degree. I hope to one day pursue a career in politics and government.
While attending college, I am also working on a project sponsored by a third grant from the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative. With this grant and a partnership with the Puerto Rico House of Representatives and the Puerto Rico Department of Education, I am working to develop and coordinate a child abuse awareness campaign, which will be delivered to health educators in 80 public schools all across Puerto Rico. I hope to continue the fight against child abuse in my community and ultimately the world. ANNpower has not only provided me with the opportunity to make a difference; it has believed in my ability to do so, proving that everyone can achieve their goals – the key is to take the first step, stand up and try!