A bright, colorful gathering — both in attire and message — at Library 21c on Saturday, Sept. 21 featured mariachi music, and celebrated the voices of three, local women. Sponsored by the Friends of the Pikes Peak Library District, the event featured three honorees, who spoke about educational and personal success as well as persistence and finding support through challenges.

Dora Gonzales, president for the last three years of the Friends of the PPLD Board of Directors, opened the event in Spanish, then translated for “English-only speakers.”

Colombia native Katherine Latona, who was the first to present, shared some of her personal and educational journey. Her start involved a childhood growing up in Colombia, a move to North Carolina to live with her father at 17 and resulting experience of culture shock and prejudice, and putting her education on hold, “for the well-being of my family.” Years later, after she had moved to Colorado Springs, she reached out for financial help to pay for school and discovered the Karen Possehl Women’s Endowment at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She was subsequently accepted as a scholar. The financial but also “tremendous moral support,” of the “KPW community,” she said, were a significant factor in her achievement of an art history bachelor’s degree.

KPWE is “unique in higher education,” said Lauren Shakes, program scholarship manager, adding that it’s a model for other scholarship programs. Its mentorship element and extraordinary student success rate stand apart.

Another educational program, New Directions, was touted by the second speaker, Dolores M. Martinez. She said it’s tailored “for working people” and is an additional, “non-conventional” possible door into graduate school. Martinez earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science. She quoted from the genealogical book she wrote, “Experiences in the Historical Borderlands: A Shared Ancestry,” about relatives after the Mexican Revolution who had “the citizenship dilemma” and were forced to choose between the United States or Mexico.

That forced decision, she said, created a long-lasting rift. The land and people “… were separated by an imaginary boundary that divided a country and still does today.”

Although hardship and struggle were part of their stories, both Martinez and Latona also emphasized creative persistence, seeking support, and pride in where one comes from.

Martinez urged the audience to “embrace your history and that of your family and be proud of your heritage.”

Latona focused on staying the course. “I cannot stress enough the importance of not giving up — you will have trouble, but keep getting up.” She expressed the hope that “my story motivates you to pursue your dreams.”

Last to present, with her lilac-colored hair shining under the stage lights, 81-year-old Connie Solano de Benavidez highlighted passionate love for what she does as a strong motivator.

“I make my own creations. I love to sew. I really love what I do.”

Benavidez spends multiple hours — and has for 25 years — creating handmade costumes worn by female Ballet Folklorico de la Raza dancers.

“One time I timed myself, just to make one ruffle it took me 11 hours. Just to put the ribbon on a ruffle. And some of those, the ruffles are like 18 yards wide … five rows in each skirt bottom.”

Multicolored ribbon and lace stripes cover the dresses, some sewn into star shapes around the waist, and cause a kaleidoscope visual effect when dancers wave the skirts in rhythmic movements.

De Benavidez went on to repeat what keeps her going beyond praise.

“… I enjoy what I do. … I’m so proud of my dancers … we’ve had hundreds of kids come through our dance group (since 1994). … And I really love what I do … I’m so proud of what I do; I’m so proud of myself.”

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