323 W. Oak Ave.
Visalia, CA. 93291
Phone: (559) 738-
ACT Women & Girls
P.O. Box 536
Visalia, CA 93279
Lourdes was born in Mexico and raised in California, where she spent many of her childhood summers working in the Central Valley fields to help her family.
After graduating from high school, she continued working on farms to put herself through community college because her undocumented status meant she couldn’t apply for financial aid. It was at a community college in 2010 that she learned about Ms. Foundation grantee ACT for Women and Girls.
ACT, committed to eradicating oppression and empowering women, was an ideal fit for Lourdes. -
“I would always work it out,” she explains. “You know there’s so much to do, and we were like, ‘We can’t miss anything!’”
The organization gave her more than leadership training; it helped her develop close bonds with other young women. “I have a sisterhood with the girls...I’ve met [through ACT]. We are able to rely on each other and help each other through anything in life. From rides to school to being able to stay at someone’s house.”
In her first year, Lourdes helped educate her peers through campaigns like “Don’t Let a Hot Date Turn into a Due Date,” which promotes healthy sexuality on prom night by distributing safety kits including condoms, LGBTQ resources and rape crisis information.
Thanks to ACT, Lourdes became a constant voice to state and local legislators about women’s issues, including reproductive health and justice, immigrant rights and access to education. She visited Sacramento with ACT on five different occasions to represent women. Lourdes remembers when she went to Sacramento for the first time, to advocate for birth control access.
Talking to her legislators, she described what other young women went through in her small community. “I see a lot of pregnant young girls in my town... That’s what I’ve experienced. A lot of these young girls don’t even finish high school. I know my sisters didn’t finish high school. They had kids, and they had to be moms. I see a lot of teenage girls in my town that have not been able to finish school because they’re raising a baby, and they’ll never go back.”
Her passion for ensuring that teenagers have access and information to make choices about their sexuality made her the perfect candidate to spearhead ACT’s Pharmacy Access Project, a campaign that sends teenage “secret shoppers” to pharmacies in their county to ensure that they are teen-
The Pharmacy Access Project has become a community institution, and today pharmacies display their certificates proudly, boasting about receiving “A” grades from ACT. ACT also creates a report card so teenagers in the area know which pharmacies are available as true health care resources to them.
Lourdes continued working with ACT even after graduating from its Female Leadership Academy and completing her internship with the Pharmacy Access Project. She volunteered to organize ACT alumni and aid in grassroots fundraising efforts from 2011-
Through ACT, Lourdes connected with a lawyer who helped her understand and work through the process. Three months after applying, she was approved, but in reality, she had been waiting for this freedom her whole life.
“It opened the doors to a lot of new things for me that I had been waiting to do because I didn’t have that paper to be able to say that I was legally here... I wasn’t able to do the things that I’m doing now.”
Today Lourdes is a preschool teacher by day and a domestic violence counselor by night. On her days off, she is a volunteer firefighter. Even under DACA, she cannot receive financial aid, so Lourdes pays her own way to go to school part-
Asked why she does all of this, Lourdes explains matter-
The Ms. Foundation for Women is proud to stand with emerging leaders like Lourdes Santiago, and to support programs, such as ACT for Women and Girls, that empower young women and girls to lead the feminist movement.
By all accounts, Lourdes Santiago is valuable to her community. She works as a preschool teacher, domestic violence counselor, part-
LOURDES SANTIAGO STORY