Which of the Voto Latino Innovators finalists would you vote for?

In terms of being tech savvy and embracing digital media, Latino Americans are ahead of the curve. However, a disconnect currently exists in the Hispanic…

The Healthy Hub at West Kendall Baptist Hospital in Miami helps make Latinas take heart in their health. Keeping Latina women health is a goal of Voto Latino and one of the competitors in its Innovators Challenge is part of this effort in South Florida.

(Photo Courtesy: Katy Wilhelm/Baptist Hospital)

In terms of being tech savvy and embracing digital media, Latino Americans are ahead of the curve. However, a disconnect currently exists in the Hispanic community, where this high-tech interest doesn’t translate into careers. Only 7 percent of Latinos are employed by the tech industry.

Voto Latino, a nonprofit that empowers Latino millennials to create positive change in their communities, is hoping to make a difference with its inaugural VL Innovators Challenge, a tech competition supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (MacArthur Foundation) and Google.

“We have $500,000 we’re going to re-grant to the best projects,” Voto Latino Deputy Communications Director Yándary Zavala told VOXXI. “Those eligible for the competition are between the ages of 18 and 34. The purpose was to find a tech solution to solve a problem or need in the Latino community. The topics range from education to entrepreneurship, healthcare and women’s mental health.”

The latter is the focus of VL Innovators Challenge finalist Stefan Schwindeman, who is the community programs coordinator at West Kendall Baptist Hospital in Miami. The project is a mobile app to encourage healthy choices for Latinas.

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Making technology count for Latinas in our community

“We entered the competition as a way to serve Latinas in our community, to make sure they could be healthy and provide for their families,” Schwindeman told VOXXI. “Our area is 80 percent Hispanic, so we knew we needed to focus on Latinas as part of our vision to create the healthiest community in Florida.

“They tend to take care of everyone around them except themselves, and their health can suffer for it. The combination of traditional diets and lack of exercise can put these women at risk for chronic but preventable conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.”

Stefan Schwinderman is participating in the Voto Latino competition.

Stefan Schwindeman of the Healthy Women of WestKendall initiative in Miami is hoping to develop an app to better the health of Latina women. (Photo Courtesy: Stefan Schwindeman)

The app would feature incentives for positive lifestyle changes and health information for Latinas at the grocery store, restaurant or coffee shop. Schwindeman is one of nine different finalists waiting to hear on March 4 whether West Kendall Baptist Hospital will be awarded grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 to bring the project to fruition.

Schwindeman added, “Whether it’s finding a space at the back of the parking lot instead of jockeying for a position up front or choosing fruit instead of dessert or registering to vote or getting an education, we have the power to change for the better, one small step at a time.”

Winner will get more than money for their project

Invariably, the VL Innovators Challenge, which had roughly 300 entries, provides large steps for each tech project with winners receiving much more than funding. Sure, the cash is important but in order to help each project succeed, the winners will receive training at a Google Headquarters boot camp, where they’ll find tech mentors to guide them through the process regarding marketing, advertising and budgeting.

“We’re hoping to create a pipeline of Latino tech talent to encourage more young people to pursue STEM careers,” Zavala said. “Basically, we wanted to see what happened if you take a young person with a good idea and provide them with the contacts, the funding, the support and recourses to make their idea come to life.”

Helping sustain that pipeline is finalist Mayra Jhoana Cruz with her MiMentor Pre-Health Mentoring Community. The mobile app is designed to connect Latino students (ages 13 +) who want to work in a health or medical profession with Latino mentors who are already practicing in their chosen health field.

“MiMentor was born out of a need to help others, and while it sounded simple, it is very profound,” Cruz told Voxxi. “My involvement in this work reminds me of why I have chosen to become a doctor and champion the needs of the Latino community.”

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The San Francisco resident said MiMentor was born out of her experience. Not only was the Latina the first in her family to graduate from a university, but along the way she was often discouraged from becoming a doctor.

Luckily for Cruz, she had plenty of mentors in the health field to guide her along.

Cruz said, “Our families, our communities, and our patients need us – so we need all the help we can get to make sure that Latinos have the mentors and opportunities to also become doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.”