“Siéntate, y dime la verdad,” is how Madai Figueroa talks to her teenagers. She wants her house to be a place for open communication, where her kids know they can come to her. 

Figueroa is using tools she learned in the Con Mi Madre program to encourage her children to share their feelings and thoughts. 

Con Mi Madre is a nonprofit organization that helps Latina women achieve a postsecondary education — whether that’s college or a trade school — while also helping them address mental health and other emotional needs.

When Con Mi Madre was founded in 1992 in Austin, its premise was based on a statistic that showed Latina babies had a less than 1% chance of obtaining a college degree. Since then, Latina college enrollment has increased significantly, research shows.

Board member Brooke Goggans was one of the people to bring the organization to Fort Worth in 2018, when Fort Worth ISD’s school board approved the program for some campuses. At first, the program was at Rosemont, Kirkpatrick and Riverside middle schools. Later, North Side, Carter Riverside and South Hills high schools were added.

Each year, the organization has helped over 100 mother-daughter duos, Goggans said. Con Mi Madre has served more than 3,000 mothers and daughters across Texas, program coordinator Azanel Bonuz said.

The impact of introducing these young women to education options is huge, Goggans said.

“It’s like watching somebody walk into a dark room and somebody turns the lights on,” she said. “There’s no no magic measurement for the impact of choice. And that’s what education does. It gives us options.”

Each grade level has an age-appropriate curriculum

Participating in Con Mi Madre helps raise expectations, Goggans said. Opening their minds to a college campus gives the students a chance to get out of their neighborhoods and experience new opportunities.

Program coordinator Jindira Salaicec said the organization stands out from others that help young Latinas because it also provides assistance to their mothers. The nonprofit program goes to schools to conduct lessons with girls in sixth through 12th grades who sign up to participate. 

The funding is a combination of grants and donors and some funds from school districts the program serves, Bonuz said.

Each grade level has an age-appropriate curriculum, Salaicec said. Some of the lessons include boosting self-esteem or avoiding peer pressure. In one lesson, girls learn about the importance of finding people who support them.

While eating snacks and working together, students complete a worksheet and are then assigned an activity, Salaicec said. They each had to paint a rock with a name or names of their support system.

The point is simple: It reminds them their support system is as strong as a rock.

Once they reach their junior year, the focus shifts to college applications, financial aid and preparing for the adjustment of leaving home, Salaicec said.

‘I can’t stop and hold her forever’

Leaving home is a big deal for Figueroa and her 15-year-old daughter Angie Salcedo, who attends Trimble Tech High School. When she graduates, Angie wants to go to Abilene Christian University, a campus she visited as part of a tour with Con Mi Madre.

Figueroa didn’t graduate from college. She wanted to study forensics — like her daughter — and work for the FBI or as an investigator. While she wants her daughter to go to college, she’s nervous about the separation.

Abilene Christian is in Abilene, about 150 miles west of Fort Worth.

She told her daughter she could go to a community college and live at home rent free, but Salcedo is determined. After meeting another mom in the program, Figueroa said she was comforted by seeing another woman go through the same experience with her daughter.

The mother shared tips for how to manage being apart. 

“It’s scary, and it’s going to be scary, but I can’t stop her and hold her forever,” Figueroa said. “I can’t cut her wings. I’ve got to let her go. I don’t want her to regret it afterwards.”

She can accept her daughter’s dream and welcome her home with open arms if she changes her mind, Figueroa said. The Con Mi Madre program feels like family, and Figueroa credits it for her acceptance of her daughter’s plans.

Aside from preparing for life and options post high school, the program provides mothers and daughters with ways to navigate conversations about more sensitive topics, like mental health.

In Figueroa’s childhood home, she didn’t talk to her mom about issues she faced.

Once she and her daughter started working with Con Mi Madre, she found help for her depression and went to a women’s center to address her past abuse. Figueroa is determined to break these cycles for her daughter.

“It really opened up, like, a world to me,” Figueroa said. “My mom, she doesn’t speak English. She’s from Mexico. She wouldn’t like to talk about anything. And anything that happens inside the house, you cannot go out. I kind of broke that barrier. Stuff happens and you don’t have to keep it to yourself. There’s hope out there.”

Salcedo struggles with talking about her feelings, but she’s getting better at communicating with her mom, she said. She’s comforted by the phrase that reminds her she’s not in trouble; mom just wants to talk. “Siéntate, y dime la verdad.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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Kristen BartonEducation Reporter

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...