25 Years of Latina Unidas and 45 Years of Young Wonders

Categories: Blog

From L-R: Judith Hutton (CEO, YWCA Princeton) with Mary Jo Abbondanza (former YWCA Trenton Board President)

On February 13, YWCA Princeton celebrated 25 years of Latinas Unidas in Trenton and 45 years of Young Wonders Preschool at Hamilton at a Mardi Gras Party.

Among those in attendance were the founders of both these programs, along with the program participants from over the years, and past and present YWCA board members. YWCA Princeton CEO Judith Hutton said, “The Mardi Gras party was our way of thanking and re-energizing the people who have kept these wonderful programs alive for years. It was an opportunity for us to come together as a YWCA family and reach out to more people.”

25 Years of Latina Unidas

From L-R: Sasa Olessi Montano (Founder of Latinas Unidas), Cecy Jimenez-Weeast (Director of Latinas Unidas), Vicky Alcazar, Erica Franco, Hortensia Santiago (first participants of the Latinas Unidas program)

Denisse Y Vega moved to USA from Puerto Rico, in search for a better life for herself and her three young children. “I enrolled in the ESL program with Latinas Unidas in 2014. My English skills at the time were very poor, and I was not able to speak, write, read or understand the language at all”, says Denisse. “Latinas Unidas taught me basic skills like setting up appointments, how to speak to my children’s teachers and doctors, and most importantly, how to search and prepare for a job. I am very grateful for their support in helping me achieve my goals and dreams in this country.”

Denisse is just one of the many women that have walked through the doors of Latinas Unidas, which was founded more than 25 years as part of YWCA Trenton by Sasa Olessi Montano. Cecy Jimenez-Weeast, Director of Latinas Unidas, and who herself immigrated to USA from El Salvador 30 years ago, has been the driving force behind Latinas Unidas for 17 years. Cecy and her team have helped empower countless immigrant Latina women towards self-sufficiency through education, skills training, crisis counseling and a supportive network to assist these women in their transition to America.

Since 2016, Latinas Unidas has become a part of YWCA Princeton, but continues to offer programs and services from its location at 5 South Broad Street, Trenton.


45 Years of Young Wonders

From L-R: Carolyn Sosna (creator of the first curriculum of Young Wonders in 1972), Liza Zauner (Director of Young Wonders Hamilton), Sandy Weaver (staff at Young Wonders)

In the early 1970’s Hamilton, there was an emerging need for a preschoolers program that would offer young mothers a break from looking after their families, while also providing the children a stimulating group environment where they could play and learn. The Young Wonders Child Development Center was established in 1972, and over the years has added all-day classes as well as before and after school care where working parents could have a safe environment to leave their children in.

“Most of our clients found us through word of mouth, which speaks for the quality of care and education that we offer”, says Liza Zauner, Director of the Young Wonders Program at Hamilton. “This year, we even have six second generation students attending. It is wonderful to greet parents who were students themselves with us years ago.”

Megan (Budden) Shaffer with her daughter, Leah.

Pictured alongside is Megan (Budden) Shaffer, who attended the Young Wonders Program at Hamilton 25 years ago. She decided to enroll her daughter Leah with the same program when she was 2. “I always knew that Leah was in good hands. She was always so excited to go to school. During this time, while working on my degree in child development, I began working at the preschool where I am still a lead preschool teacher. The YWCA is a hidden gem in Hamilton that is very family oriented. I couldn’t be happier with my experiences over the years!”, remarked Megan.

Young Wonders has maintained a rich history of traditional values and character development, along with a nurturing family environment. The staff inspires creativity, hands on science, math and social studies.

More pictures from the Mardi Gras Party in this event gallery.