Meet the 2020 Class of the Latina Leadership Initiative


The Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines (LLI) is excited to announce its new class. This year we want to introduce the following participants: Crystal Aquino, Mariana Hernandez, Jennifer Juarez, Nancy Medel, Lesly Muñiz, Gretel Ruiz and Alexia Sanchez.

The Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines (LLI) program strives to build upon the participant’s existing skills, and increase their capabilities in the areas of public speaking, incorporating culture and language as assets, project management, budgeting, personal wellness, professional etiquette, work/ life balance, and networking.  Aside from the sixty hours of leadership development training sessions, participants complete a community service project that allows them to put their leadership skills into practice. Participants also receive individual attention from their mentors who are active community leaders in various professional industries.

During the month of February LLI is launching the “GIVE LOVE AND DONATE TO LLI” fundraising campaign.  This campaign will allow LLI to continue providing resources to uplift its participants, the Latinas of today and tomorrow. Our fundraising goal is to receive the amount of $5,000.00. All funds go directly toward providing the necessary resources to deliver classes, recruit potential participants, mentors, in addition to the program. 

Please help LLI by joining our campaign through our Facebook page: Latina Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines. We invite you to listen to our participants’ success stories, which can be found on our website, where you can also find more ways to support our future leaders. We also accept checks payable to The Latina Leadership Initiative at our PO Box 8278, Des Moines, IA 50301.

The LLI program is funded through corporate sponsorships, grants, foundation dollars and individual donations.  LLI is proud that members of its community believe in its mission so much that they invest their personal funds to the program and its participants each year. Your support is truly appreciated and will help LLI champion the development of the next generation of young Latina leaders in the greater Des Moines area! 


Crystel Aquino

Crystel Aquino is a Lincoln High School alum, class of 2013. After high school Crystel attended DMACC where she did some coursework in Business Administration and Marketing. She is currently an associate at Nationwide Insurance. During her free time Crystel enjoys volunteering at her Church, St Anthony Parish, spending time with her family, and making arts and crafts.

Mentor: Jessica G. Trinidad. Ms. Trinidad is the founder of Jessica Productions and Team Strong Inc. 


Mariana Hernandez

Mariana Hernandez is a 2009 North High school Graduate. She attended Capitol View Elementary School and Harding Middle School. She is a realtor with the Ibarra Realty Group- Keller Williams. “I get to be apart of one of the most important times in a family’s life through helping in buying, selling or investing in real estate. I am the middle child of 5 siblings and my parents are Adilberta Ramirez and Cutberto Hernandez.” Mariana has a 15 month old boy, Julian Cesar, with her Significant other.   She loves to be involved with the community as much as she can. Mariana has been a volunteer with the food bank of Iowa, Jolly Holiday Lights, Habitat for Humanity, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cause and many more.

Mentor: Monica Reyes. Ms. Reyes is the founder of Dream Iowa and currently works at Lincoln Savings Bank as a Mortgage Lender.

Jennifer Juarez

Jennifer Juarez graduated from Iowa State University with her Bachelor’s degree in Child, Adult and Family Services. She was an intern at DHS in 2016, and has worked for Lutheran Services in Iowa since 2016 where she is a program supervisor for 24-hour community living services for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health concerns.  In her down time she enjoys volunteering for the Iowa Special Olympics.


Mentor: Charissa Flege. Ms. Flege is a Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Iowa.


Nancy Medel

Nancy Medel joined L.U.N.A. in August 2019 and is currently serving as the Assistant Director. In this role, Nancy oversees advocates, interns, and projects. She also provides direct advocacy services for clients. Nancy received her Bachelor’s degree from Morningside College in Social and Behavioral Science and Managerial Accounting. She graduated Cum Laude in 2018. Nancy has previously served in the AmeriCorps Program with Goodwill of Central Iowa as the New Iowan Outreach VISTA where she conducted community needs assessments to better understand the gaps in services for refugees and immigrants in Des Moines.

Mentor: Angela Gibbons. Ms. Gibbons is the Director of First Impressions at Waddell & Reed.


Lesly Muniz

Lesly Muñiz is a Des Moines resident and a senior at Grand View University studying Pre-Law and Political Science with a minor in Public Administration and Spanish. Her dream is to become an immigration attorney. “I’m very passionate about working with Latinos, especially students and encouraging them to advance their education after high school. I have been working with the Latino community for a while now, and I plan to do so for the rest of my life. I’m dedicated to what I do and who I want to become in the future. I’m excited for what LLI has to offer.”

Mentor: Crystal Abreo. Ms. Abreo works at Wells Fargo Bank as a Branch Manager.



Gretel Ruiz

Gretel Ruiz has a Bachelor degree in Economics and is pursuing a second degree in Public Administration Experience related to the evaluation of social programs with public organizations, which includes gathering, reproducing and analyzing data in order to be used for assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of public funding invested in programs that are intended to improve quality of life of the poor in Colombia. “My aspirations are to work for a NGO where I can lead projects that allow people to improve their lives, travel around the world promoting good monitoring and evaluation practices and build an organization in Colombia that will encourage young people to research and innovate better ways to use public funding.”

Mentor: Scott Syroka. Mr. Syroka is the first Latino to be a city council-member for the Johnston City Council.


Alexia Sanchez

Alexia Sanchez, a Des Moines native. She is a fourth-year undergraduate student pursuing degrees in Political Science, Social Justice, and Philosophy at the University of Iowa. Alexia is passionate about social justice issues through policy and culture and challenges herself to learn about issues and be an agent for future solutions. She is currently serving as LULAC 308 (League of United Latin American Citizens) President, making her the youngest serving executive for a LULAC Council in the state of Iowa. Alexia will graduate in May 2020 from the University of Iowa and hopes to one day work in the immigration field and continue helping marginalized communities.

Mentor: Claudia Schabel. Ms. Schabel is the founder of Schabel Solutions, a consulting firm that offers strategic solutions on how to build inclusive workplaces to attract and retain talent.

Photos by Tar Macias of Hola Iowa

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