Proyecto Mariposas empowers Columbus' Latina mothers and daughters

Steve Wartenberg
For Columbus CEO
Yahaira Rose, executive director, Proyecto Mariposas

Proyecto Mariposas (Project Butterfly) doesn’t have an office or any paid employees, and it operates on a minuscule budget. And yet, led by a determined founder, it manages to connect with, teach and inspire hundreds of Latina mothers and their daughters. “When you have a passion to do something, you can empower Latina girls with the tools and skills they need to lead brave, strong lives,” says Yahaira Rose, executive director of the nonprofit.

Passion is the perfect word to describe what Rose shares with the Proyecto Mariposas community she’s created.

“She inspires me to be a better person and to give back,” says Stephanie Diaz, 20. Diaz began participating in the program when she was 10 and recently opened steff.mexx, a catering company specializing in traditional Mexican candies and treats. “[Yahaira’s] someone you can trust and go to for anything.”

Founding Proyecto Mariposas

Rose traveled from her home in Puerto Rico to attend Ohio State University in 1992. She was 18 and didn’t speak English. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature, then a master’s degree in professional studies with a specialty in leadership development from the University of Denver. She began a career in human resources, where she learned the leadership and organizational skills that would later help her create Proyecto Mariposas.

“I didn’t have a community, any mentors. There weren’t that many Latinos here, and it was hard for me to connect,” Rose says, adding she sought out and talked to several Latina mothers. “I asked, ‘What do you need?’ and that’s how we started building a program.”

Proyecto Mariposas began in a church basement in 2011. Rose met with and mentored four Latina mothers and their daughters. And when the church basement was no longer available, the growing group moved their weekly meetings to Rose’s home.

Continued growth

Rose filed for and attained nonprofit status in 2014 and began applying for and winning grants. The first was from the city of Columbus, for $3,000, and “helped us create a structured program, a book with all these activities we could follow with the girls,” Rose says. Subsequent grants from the city and other organizations have helped her add more programs and books. There are workbooks for younger girls, teenage girls, and a third book, in Spanish, for mothers, many of whom don’t speak English.

The books follow a 10-week curriculum on nutrition, arts and crafts, design, cooking and leadership skills. There are field trips and Latina guest speakers from the community from a variety of professions. There’s a one-week summer camp and an annual Day of the Girl event that includes a one-day conference organized by the girls in the program. Rose also has taken the Proyecto Mariposas curriculum into local schools: the Columbus Bilingual Academy-North, World Language Middle School and the Columbus Spanish Immersion Academy.

After Rose began volunteering at the Martin de Porres Center of the Dominican Sisters of Peace on Airport Road, she accepted a full-time position as program manager in 2015. The sisters allowed her to bring Proyecto Mariposas with her, she says.

Overcoming obstacles

The women, teens and girls of Proyecto Mariposas face many hurdles in their daily lives. “There can be legal issues if they’re undocumented,” Rose says, adding language, education and career opportunities are other issues, as well as the challenge of combining the heritage of their native countries with the culture of this country.

Liliana Ivette Vasquez is a Columbus-based immigration attorney connected to Proyecto Mariposas. “Yahaira knows we can struggle with our identity … and have to carve out our own identity,” she says. “And she helps everyone carve that out on an individual basis, and she provides a safe place and a community.”

Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.

Proyecto Mariposas

2330 Airport Drive, Columbus

Mission: Empower, mentor and support Latina women and girls with the tools, knowledge and leadership skills necessary to lead brave, strong lives.

Executive director: Yahaira Rose

Employees: All-volunteer

Yearly budget: $45,000