How one Latter-day Saint woman is seeking to empower Latina youth in her community

A few years ago, Nadia Cates and her husband, Shawn, had the opportunity to temporarily move their young family to Mexico City, Mexico. 

Born in Tijuana, Mexico, and having emigrated to the United States with her family when she was 3 years old, Cates didn’t remember much about her homeland. Living in Mexico City gave her a chance to experience Mexican culture in a new way. 

“I think of that season of my life as an opportunity to have reconnected with my heritage, my cultural heritage,” said Cates, a mother of six who lives in Provo, Utah. “I noticed that as I reconnected with my heritage, I was more confident, I was more sure of who I was, and I really loved the feeling that gave me.”

It became one of Cates’ personal missions to stay connected to her roots and find ways to serve those in Mexico.

After moving back to the states, Cates remembers sitting in a gathering with Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency and director of Latter-day Saint Charities. A sister in the meeting asked how she could better serve and support the Church’s charitable endeavors in international areas. 

Sister Eubank responded something like: “What are you doing in your own neighborhood? Are you ministering? Are you helping the people around you at home?” Her answer “hit home” for Cates.

“It just resonated with me,” Cates recalled. “I realized in that moment that returning to Mexico will always be something I’ll do. But it was time to focus my energy on something here at home.”

What began as an idea for a one-time project flourished into an organization dedicated to empowering Latina youth in her community with hope, confidence and purpose. 

Ella Rises — which translates to “she rises” — is a nonprofit that seeks to inspire Latina youth in Utah to continue their education, become community leaders and preserve their cultural heritage. The organization offers free virtual and in-person leadership and art workshops led by Latina mentors. 

“We see ourselves in the girls, we see ourselves in the Latinas in Utah. … We wish that there had been a program like this when we were younger,” Cates said. “And we don’t have time to sit back and watch someone else do it.”

Recognizing that there is a higher high school dropout rate and teen pregnancy rate among Latina youth, she said, “We know how powerful the role of women is in our society. I feel like few things can predict a child’s outcome [better] than that of a mother’s education. And perhaps with Ella Rises, we can impact this cycle.”

Nadia Cates, middle, talks with Ingrid Jaime, left, and Izri Medina, right, during an Ella Rises workshop. Ella Rises is a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring Latina youth with hope, confidence and purpose.
Nadia Cates, middle, talks with Ingrid Jaime, left, and Izri Medina, right, during an Ella Rises workshop. Ella Rises is a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring Latina youth with hope, confidence and purpose. Credit: Provided by Ella Rises

Cates’ hope for Ella Rises, which launched its first workshops in October 2020, is that it will become a safe space for Latina youth to talk about their concerns and receive support from role models who may have experienced similar challenges. 

She is leaving the nonprofit in the care of her team as she and her husband embark on a new adventure beginning July 1. They will be serving as mission leaders of the Costa Rica San José West Mission.

“We’re so excited to meet our missionaries. We’re excited for the wonderful opportunity,” Cates said. 

“I think that in a way, in a more Christ-centered way, I’ll have that opportunity to continue fulfilling that mission of uplifting the women that I come in contact with. … There is no doubt in my mind that the Lord is aware of the women in the Church. He knows us and He loves us.”