NYU Alumni Changemaker of the Year
(WAG ’13, STEINHARDT ’23)
Founder and Executive Director, Latinas on the Verge of Excellence (L.O.V.E.)
Helping Girls Thrive with the Power of L.O.V.E.
“I really believe in destiny,” says Claudia Espinosa, who immigrated from Colombia to the United States at the age of 20. Her dreams of becoming an FBI agent soon morphed into several jobs in the nonprofit sector, including a role as a suicide intake counselor for teenage clients. “The experiences those girls described—being a new immigrant, learning a new language, being undocumented—I lived through every single one.” Espinosa realized she was witnessing an alarming mental health crisis. It was a turning point, emboldening her to create a vehicle that connected at-risk girls with role models and skills that would give them hope and help them thrive.
Espinosa was a graduate student at NYU when she piloted Latinas on the Verge of Excellence (L.O.V.E.), a mentoring program dedicated to empowering young Latina women and girls in school and beyond. Partnering with 21 public schools across New York City, L.O.V.E. now supports hundreds of students annually with in-person and virtual classes. Its program, which is offered as a girls-only elective class, educates students on college access and readiness, as well as mental, physical, and reproductive health. “The curriculum is based on what the girls have asked us to create for them,” says Espinosa. She points to L.O.V.E. mentors, who form a critical part of that curriculum. “It’s because of the mentors that these girls believe they can make it,” says Espinosa. “And it’s because our mentors reflect the girls in our programs.”
Today, the pilot Espinosa launched 10 years ago places dozens of mentors throughout its partner schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Of the 1,500 students who’ve completed the L.O.V.E. program, every mentee has progressed to the next grade level, graduated from high school, and enrolled in college. As the face of the organization, Epinosa has been featured in the media, including ABC7 New York, NBC New York, Telemundo, and Univision, and is an NYU Nia Awards and NYU President’s Service Award recipient.
With young Latina girls bearing the highest teen pregnancy, high school dropout, and suicide rates in New York City, Espinosa knows L.O.V.E.’s work is far from over. She’s strengthening partnerships with city officials in neighborhoods with high Latino populations where L.O.V.E. can make a deep impact. Espinosa is also busy building the foundation for the next phase of the organization: opening an all-girls L.O.V.E. school. It’s a dream inspired by the youth she serves and the vow she made to the young survivors she helped many years ago. “It makes me feel that I’m keeping my promise to the girls,” says Espinosa. “That’s the real impact for me—to see our girls succeed today, whatever that may mean for each of them.”