Today we’d like to introduce you to Latoya Dennis.
Latoya, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve always mentored in some capacity. I never planned or aspired to be a mentor, however every relationship I encountered lead to this dynamic. Whether it was my nieces/nephews, extended family members, friends, neighborhood kids, colleagues or staff under my leadership; mentoring always seemed to wedge its’ way into these relationships.
My humble beginnings started in 1989 when I became employed at a drug rehab facility as an Intake Counselor. This was in the midst of the crack cocaine epidemic and I just wanted a job to care for my baby and pay the rent. As I met different women through the Intake process and attentively listened, it became apparent how important it was for me to be the first face to greet them in their most vulnerable moments. Having access to women (all ages) at the lowest point of their lives and watching them overcome their addictions and reach success had a huge impact on me. I was only 19 years old at the time. Although I never used drugs, I learned that the women I worked with had the same deficits in life as myself: learning to navigate life via trial and error and not having a steady mentor figure for guidance. I worked there close to two years and built a career over the next ten years working with women and men incarcerated in federal and state correctional facilities.
Over the years, I amassed a number of life skills and developed knowledge, wisdom, patience active listening, accountability and true empathy. Having this background along with a genuine heart to help people, refined my ability to mentor people from all walks of life. Gyrls2Gems came from a desire to take my ability to mentor and inspire and place a structure around it. July 2015 Gyrls2Gems became an official 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. We hold mini-workshops in small groups (25-30) for women and young gyrls and open a dialogue on the current pressures young women face. During these workshops, we’ve had dynamic speakers, networking and interactive activities designed to have the women in the room share their wisdom with the gyrls.
5Plates joined with Gyrls2Gems January 2019. 5Plates is a hands-on community service endeavor to serve homeless communities nutritious meals in the Inland Empire and Los Angeles. The youth have the opportunity to work in the Gyrls2Gems_5Plates kitchen and prepare meals as well as distribute them in the field. We also provide hygiene kits and gently used clothing to the homeless community.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No it has not been a smooth road, however the road is extremely rewarding! The struggles have been carrying the non-profit financially from my pocket. I’m so appreciative of the donations via supplies, water, utensils and monetary because every bit of help is critical to keeping the food distribution going. We distribute plates every other Sunday and have done so for over a year now. Some days we have no volunteers and that requires a double dose of energy to prep and distribute the plates. Also, I am still employed full-time so juggling my work responsibilities and running the non-profit is challenging. I’m learning and taking my time. The road is still bumpy and the bumps are fewer. Patience Patience Patience and leaning on God keeps us going.
Gyrls2Gems_5Plates – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Gyrls2Gems_5Plates specializes in mentoring and leadership development and for youth girls and young women ages 8-24 years old.
The specific objectives and purpose of this organization:
a. facilitate classes, workshops and community outreach efforts for leadership/life skills development
b. Provide morale support, resources, structure and guidance through mentoring
c. Promote building strong communities through service and acts of kindness.
We are most known for our community outreach efforts through 5Plates. Specifically we prepare home-cooked nutritious meals, gently used clothing and personal hygiene items to the homeless community. I am proud to have young people who come consistently to help further our outreach work. What sets up apart is having a program that allows the youth a hands-on platform to brainstorm and execute ideas that promote strong communities and acts of kindness through our 5Plates outreach.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I define success as incremental wins! When one has the courage to carry out an idea and push through the challenges, there is a lot of growth in that process. Those humble beginnings will make or break you. Establishing small achievable goals are the markers and being very forgiving of myself if I miss a mark.
- Address: 14910 Perris Blvd B601
Moreno Valley, CA 92553
- Phone: 9093764596
- Email: Gyrls2Gems@gmail.com
- Instagram: Gyrls2Gems_5Plates
- Facebook: Gyrls 2 Gems, Inc