Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with LPA: Following a Dream of Service


Margarita Avila has followed a long and winding path to reach her dream of providing meaningful and impactful service at the Latino Academy of Workforce Development

Part 2 of 2

By Jonathan Gramling

Margarita Avila has followed a long and sometimes twisting path to find her dreams and to implement them. Avila grew up in Durango, Mexico, the youngest of four children whose parents owned a grocery store. She followed her educational dreams to Madison, Wisconsin where her brother lived and then moved on to Milwaukee to attend Wisconsin Lutheran College.

While in Milwaukee, Avila attended the Latino Leadership Program in Milwaukee through the UW-Milwaukee and the Roberto Hernandez Center. Through an individual mission and vision project, Avila came up with her dream job. Several years later, she found that dream job working for the Latino Academy of Workforce Development as the director of workforce development.

Avila assumed her duties a few months before the pandemic hit Madison.

“When Baltazar offered me the job, I didn’t think twice,” Avila said. “Obviously, I did some negotiations with him on my salary because I was moving back to Madison and definitely wanted to make sure that it was going to be the right position for me. It’s not the best of times, but also once again, my family have been able to make this transition super-easy. I also made connections with LPA. It has been able to help me meet other people, other Latinos and other professionals in Dane County. I can network and get to know Dane County through them and just ask questions and ask for support. It can be professionally for my job and also for my personal life and where things are in Madison. Where are the best places to go eat? I think making that transition and being part of those organizations like LPA definitely are a great support to making the transition easier.”

But Avila is here primarily for the work.

“At the Latino Academy, the thing that I enjoy is I can bring my passions and my skills to the work that I do, especially when I have to work with the students and helping them find a job placement after they complete the training,” Avila said. “I love to see when we are able to make the upgrade from having the participant just getting $15 per hour and now they are getting $20 per hour. That aligns with our mission and what we want to do with our participants, making sure they are able to attain family sustaining sufficiency here in Dane County. That is something that I am passionate about with my job. My job is very rewarding. On the other side, it’s a lot of work, definitely. It’s a non-profit. But the mission motivates me a lot. I have a great boss who is always trying to be there for his staff as well. He is very supportive. I think that is very important. We have great communication and great mentorship from our executive director here at the Latino Academy.”

While the Latino Academy is a Latino-led organization, Avila emphasized that one component of ensuring that the people they work with are job ready is making sure they have a minimal proficiency in English.

“Our service training class and our manufacturing training are only provided in English because we want to make sure that our students are well-prepared to be able to take on the job,” Avila said. “We want to be able to place those students who complete the training. But one of the important components is to be able to understand the language. They have to be able to communicate and have a conversation in English. That’s why we want to make sure that our students are being successful. If we have a student who is not able to communicate or understand the language, then we try to work with the student to make sure the student comes to our ESL classes first. We work with the student until the student is ready to move on to one of our employment trainings. A lot of the companies require the students, when they apply for the job, to be able to understand or have a minimal English proficiency because they need to know the safety component of the job and need to read labels.”

Avila also gives of her time outside of the Latino Academy.

“I volunteer my time at the Dane County Employment & Training Network,” Avila said. “I am part of the steering committee as their networking coordinator. And I also am a board member of the Prospanica Milwaukee Chapter and their membership officer. I am currently taking the Greater Madison Leadership Program. I’m a mentor with LPA as well. I definitely want to be connected to my community and all of those organizations are there to provide stronger support to all of the participants here at the Latino Academy.”

Margarita Avila is passionate about making life better for members of the Latino community and beyond. She is right where she needs to be at the Latino Academy of Workforce Development.

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