With new leadership at the helm, UnidosNow enters its next phase
Cintia Elenstar becomes the new executive director of the nonprofit UnidosNow, taking the reins from Luz Corcuera.
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When Cintia Elenstar first stepped on a college campus in the U.S., she had a similar reaction to the one she sees the parents of students UnidosNow works with have.
“I was fascinated when I visited one for the first time because it looked exactly like in the American movies,” she explained.
Elenstar is the new executive director of UnidosNow, a Florida-based nonprofit that helps the local Hispanic/Latino community achieve their American Dream “through education, integration and civic engagement.”
The parents of UnidosNow students are sometimes hesitant to let their child go off to college.
“I’ve heard parents say, ‘Oh I don’t want my child to go to a college away from home because I saw a movie where the college students are partying all the time, and the campus is dangerous, right?’ So once they go, they see that it’s not like that, right?” Elenstar said during an interview with AL DÍA.
UnidosNow makes college prep multigenerational for this reason. They recently brought students on a college tour to the University of Central Florida, where parents and younger siblings are encouraged to come. Elenstar said that seeing the campus can give parents peace of mind and encourage a desire for secondary education in the younger siblings.
Elenstar was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She explained that aside from some larger private universities, colleges are made up of one building and don’t have dorms, unlike most American colleges.
Before moving to the United States, Elenstar received a degree in marketing and administration and created a travel company. She grew this company from just herself, to a team of 25 people.
Since coming to the U.S. she has continued her education. She got a Bachelors of Applied Science degree in Sustainability from St. Petersburg College, as well as graduate and master degrees from the University of Central Florida.
After getting residence and a working permit, Elenstar looked for jobs that resonated with her values and interests. She taught immigrants and refugees English and life skills.
“That was a life opening experience for me, I could see the power of being able to help somebody who was new in this country and who was lost,” she said.
She explained that this created a deep desire in her to find more opportunities that would allow her to serve immigrants and low-income people. In this same vein, she also worked at a public defender’s office.
When Elenstar and her husband moved to Sarasota for his job, she reached out to someone she’d met at a conference in 2019 for job suggestions. The woman immediately suggested UnidosNow, a nonprofit Elenstar had never heard of. She was excited by what she saw on the website, and when a manager position came up on Indeed a few days later, she applied.
“And well, the rest is history. I’m here,” she said with a laugh.
She describes her time at UnidosNow as “amazing” and “rewarding.”
During her time at UnidosNow, Elenstar helped develop the college completion program, which had just started when she had joined. The program is for alumni of the nonprofit’s Future Leaders Academy (FLA) program who have gone on to college.
Before the creation of the College Completion program, Elenstar explained that UnidosNow didn’t keep intentional contact with students after they went to college.
The program is intended to give these students — many of whom are first-generation or low-income — the support they need to complete college. This support ranges from holding workshops on different topics to assistance with financial aid.
“One of the goals of the college completion program is to ensure that our students graduate from college within a reasonable amount of time, and with minimal or no debt,” Elenstar stated, adding that so far this goal is being achieved.
Envisioning a New Chapter
The plan for Elenstar to eventually become Executive Director has been in place from almost the time she arrived in late 2019. A few months into her time at UnidosNow, Corcuera told her that she was preparing her for a leadership role.
She worked with Corcuera closely over the years, which led to a smooth transition after the board officially put the succession plan in place. By the time that she became Executive Director, she had already been handling all of the job’s responsibilities.
She was able to learn a lot from Corcuera, most notably the value of community partnerships and how to connect with other organizations.
This connection with other organizations has helped with UnidosNow’s program. Elenstar explained that if a student in the College Completion program needs mental health services they are connected with Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS). If the students need job opportunities, they are connected with the Chamber of Commerce.
Elenstar said she is honored to "expand the impact of UnidosNow" and looks forward to "continuing to serve and empower the fast-growing Hispanic/Latinx community" in the Florida region.
Part of Elenstar’s vision for UnidosNow is building on what Corcuera did. So far, the nonprofit has had an impact on more than 3,500 students and helped them get over $14 million in scholarships and grants.
She also wants to do more outreach, particularly with nontraditional students who weren’t able to go to college or get a certification right after high school. She believes that these students are more likely to stay in the area after finishing their education and contribute to the local economy.
Another vision she has for UnidosNow is continuing to support her team with professional development opportunities, as well as time for self care due to the prevalence of compassion fatigue in their sector.