As a Latina working in the women in politics world, I often push for greater representation of Latinas. We are underrepresented in the halls of government, and our stories and leadership matter. When I was just starting at Running Start, I had the honor to meet Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina elected to Congress. She couldn’t have been warmer or more enthusiastic about our work. That was plenty for me to become a fan, but she added icing to the cake. A few days later, I received a letter of support from her—on her official stationery! It now sits in a special spot on the windowsill by my desk, framed and proudly displayed.
The Congresswoman’s support for Running Start has never waned. She served as our 2016 Republican Co-Chair, she’s hosted several of our Running Start/Walmart Star Fellows as Congressional interns, she made a speech on the House floor in praise of our mission (below), and she is always one of the first elected officials to say yes when we ask her to speak to our young women to inspire them.
I was sad to hear the Congresswoman announce that she will not seek reelection in 2018. We will miss one of our best champions in Congress and one of the best role models for girls and young women interested in politics. Just this year, two more Latinas followed in her footsteps and started their first terms in Congress: Congresswoman Nanette Barragán and the first Latina Senator, Catherine Cortez Masto.
To give her the sendoff she deserves, I reached out to some of our alums who have worked in her office and asked them what it meant to them to work for Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. They all wrote back right away—I couldn’t believe it; that never happens! But the Congresswoman is special. The speed of their responses was a testament to the loyalty and dedication she inspires.
Lucinda Borque, Fall 2015 Star Fellow @Andrealucinda
I was one of the lucky ones. I say this because I interned for the honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. If you ever visited Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s office, you would be reenergized with her famous Cuban cafecito (coffee) and her staff. I was asked what Ileana Ros-Lehtinen means to me and I find myself lost for words. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen opened doors for me—I did not know what a Republican truly was until I interned for one. She truly reaches across the aisle, someone who always educates, and someone who truly cares about the present and future of our country.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a woman of honesty, integrity, and dedication. She is the voice for the voiceless: Ros-Lehtinen is a woman of character who always speaks her mind and speaks the mind of her people. She takes the time to speak to her constituents and she takes the time to get to know her interns. (I was able to intern for the Congresswoman after completing the Running Start Star Fellowship.) She even gave a speech praising my mother for all the hard work she has done raising her daughters. Being a Latina and a first generation college graduate in my family, and hearing those words being said to my mother will forever be engraved in my memory. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is an inspiration and I thank her for allowing me to be a part of her world. She is my inspiration to keep striving and when I run for office, I can look back and know, I am a lucky one!
Alexandria Murphy, Fall 2016 Star Fellow @murphalexandria
I am saddened to see that my former boss Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, but amazed at the incredible career that she has had in public service. I have no doubt that because of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, many future leaders will emerge through her inspiration and leadership. Working for the Congresswoman as a Running Start Star Fellow was simply the greatest time of my life so far. Each day we were greeted in the office with cheerful hellos and cafecito, and the Congresswoman listened to our updates on life, even from the interns. She took the time to make every single person feel important and worthy of being there. Working on Capitol Hill is magnificent in and of itself, but to work for a female Member who so dearly cares about her district and her staff and who paves the way for those that come after her is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I couldn’t have imagined being a part of a better experience in Washington. There are three portraits in the Capitol which inspire me: Jeannette Rankin, Shirley Chisholm, and (in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Room, as a beacon of hope for future women in public service) the undeniably resilient and forward thinking Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Taylor Johnson, Fall 2015 Star Fellow LinkedIn
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen has been an inspiration to me and thousands of young women across our country with political aspirations. Many know her as the first Cuban-American Member of Congress, the first Hispanic woman ever elected to Congress, or the first woman to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I know her as the woman that other Members of Congress look up to. I have come to know her as a fearless individual who never hesitates to put her party lines aside to stand up for what she believes in and what is truly best for South Florida. During my time in Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen’s office, I have sacrificed many early mornings and a few late nights and I have developed a serious dependency on Cuban coffee, but all of those sacrifices become worth it in a job where you truly believe in what you do and the Member that you represent. She has taught me to never give up or give in when you believe in something, and that having a crazy work schedule is no excuse to not play on the softball team. She has set the bar on having a successful marriage and loving your children unconditionally. One of the things I will miss the most about the Congresswoman will be the daily phone calls that always begin with a loud, “Dexter Wayne! Love of my life!” that bring all business in the office to an immediate halt.
Above all, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen taught me to not sweat the small stuff, to always take time to laugh throughout the day, even when there are a million and one things left to do before the sun sets. The personal impact she has had on me will stay with me throughout my life, and I could not be more grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded to me while working for Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. I am honored to serve her and the constituents of the 27th Congressional District of Florida through her last day in Congress.
Alexandra Curtis, Fall 2014 Star Fellow @AllieCurtisRI
My time as a Running Start Star Fellow in Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen’s office was invaluable to me and many other Running Start alums and how we see our place in the chambers of Congress. Ileana took a genuine interest in her interns, and would even ask us about our thoughts on issues and legislation. The fact that Republicans and Democrats alike are saddened by the news of her retirement is a testament to her honor and legacy. She has been one of the most effective leaders I have seen in action and thanks to the example she set, I left her office knowing that as a young woman I have a place in Congress and I am not only capable of serving in that capacity—I am needed. The Congresswoman embodies all that Running Start stands for and I’m grateful for her exemplary dedication to the program and her leadership in Congress.
Sara Blanco is a women’s empowerment advocate. She graduated from Swarthmore in 2012, where she studied English literature and gender and sexuality studies, and joined Running Start soon after. Currently pursuing a master of public policy at the George Washington University, Sara co-chairs their Women’s Leadership Fellows Program after participating last year. Sara lives in her hometown, Arlington, Virginia. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of Running Start.