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Pasadena Nonprofit Supporting Latina Education Looks Back on 4 Decades of Service

Published on Wednesday, October 6, 2021 | 11:53 am

After 40 years of service drew to a close over the summer, founding and final members of a nonprofit group dedicated to supporting Latinas through education, say they are proud of the organization’s contributions to the community.

The Community Organization of Pasadena for Advancement in Education, COPA, announced it was disbanding last month due to a lack of recruitment.

Founded in 1981, COPA has provided roughly 200 scholarships to Latina students, in addition to other forms of assistance, ranging from food baskets to help with utility bills, according to founding member Cristina Fuentes.

“So I’m very proud to be a part of this organization, and to have been in the beginning, but more importantly, to see it grow and do as much as it did at this point,” she said. “It’s a very hard-working group. The women worked very, very hard with no recognition, and did it just for the love of the community.”

“We did a lot of work for an organization that’s totally volunteer to last 40 years without staff or significant dollars,” Fuentes added.

COPA’s primary function of distributing scholarships will be taken over by the Pasadena Educational Foundation’s Latinas Inspired For Tomorrow Scholarship, or LIFT, she said.
“The good news is that another organization is taking over the scholarship part,” according to Fuentes.

In addition to Fuentes, founding members include Nena Maynez, Jessie Lopez and Lois Gutierrez, she said.

Darlene Leyba served as president for COPA’s final nine years. She was preceded by Maria Mitchell, Vivian Perez and Nena Maynez.

She got involved after meeting two other group members during a yoga class, she recalled. “And so I just kind of got sucked in.”

COPA expanded its partnerships with other community organizations in its later years, including Pasadena City College, Leyba said.

“We sat on the President’s Latino Advisory Committee at PCC,” she said. “We were there to just try to just make sure everything was equal for the Latino students that are attending PCC (and) that they were hiring Latino professors.”

“We were part of the Pasadena Mexican American History Association, we were part of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and we were just involved with a lot of other organizations, working with them,” Leyba said.

Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo stopped by a ceremony held late last month to thank the COPA members for their service over the decades.

The mayor’s sister received a scholarship from the organization prior to earning her Ph.D., Leyba said.

A bench at Pasadena’s Eaton Blanche Park bears a plaque commemorating COPA’s contributions to the city.

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