Empowering Girls to Succeed: Sonya Ulibarri

To commemorate Hispanics in Philanthropy’s 33rd year, we honored 33 Latino leaders who inspire as our 2017 HIPGivers. Read HIPGiver Sonya Ulibarri’s story below. When your life’s work is dedicated to empowering others, asking young girls to be strong, smart and bold resonates as more than a tagline. For Sonya Ulibarri, CEO of Girls Inc. of Metro Denver, those words have inspired her community through a continuous commitment to giving. Raised in Denver by a first-generation Mexican and ninth-generation Coloradan, a spirit of giving was part of her home life. Her family saw wealth as more than the numbers in a bank account; Ulibarri recounts a story of her father giving away his car at work to someone who needed it more. “When someone died or a baby was born, we would come together; by providing meals, offering a place to stay, or volunteering—those weren’t things they calculated on a tax form, they were part of being in community with others,” Ulibarri said of her parents. These values led to her student activism, involvement in community organizations, and leadership as Executive Director of both the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT) and YouthBiz in Denver, before starting her tenure at Girls Inc. of Metro Denver.
In order to be successful, I had to be authentic to who I was and that was tied to working in communities of color. It’s where I can give and grow the most, which fuels the work that I do.
While activism and giving have always been prominent themes in her life, Ulibarri’s career actually started in fundraising. After a professor showed her a pamphlet for a paid internship at GIFT, she applied, got the position, and eventually moved up to lead the organization. It was through the internship that she first grew to believe in the need for good fundraising as a tool for social change. “[Fundraising] became something powerful to me as a community activist, and I started to understand that we have to be good at raising money to create change and organize people.” Ulibarri also acknowledged the role that mentors have played in her life and said that she believes the real value of her work is in the mentorship and empowerment that Girls Inc. of Metro Denver provides to over 2,200 girls yearly. “Having other people invest in me, believe in me, be willing to share knowledge with me and create opportunities for me to continue to grow—is something that you can’t put a monetary value on,” she said. As a HIPGiver, Ulibarri sees her work aligned with HIP’s record of showing that philanthropy and giving belong where they have not always been formally recognized. “In my work, I get to advocate for girls’ rights, I get to oversee the delivery of programs that empower them to be strong, smart and bold,” Ulibarri said. “I get to be active in my community by creating positive change not just for girls, but for families and communities as a whole. I get to see girls shift things for all those around them.”