Rick’s Sports Corner: Lilly Travieso Is Making A Difference

Local daughter and mother founded Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes [ELLA], a non-profit to help young female Latina athletes reach college and play a sport.

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By Rick Assad

Burbank Chamber

Lilly Travieso and her mother Patty have two goals right now and they are that her daughter does well on the softball field and to see their non-profit gain traction and success which means giving young female Latina athletes the chance to play beyond high school as Lilly is doing as a sophomore third baseman at Cornell University.

“My mom and I started Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes (ELLA) Sports Foundation as a result of the first-hand experiences we faced, especially as I began my journey to playing college softball,” said Travieso, who graduated from Alemany High in 2020 and was a four-year starter as an infielder and named Offensive Most Valuable Player 2017 through 2019. “This sport as well as many others can be expensive and is often seen as a financial burden for many families. Living in a middle-income household required my family to live on a tight budget to afford travel fees, uniforms and equipment. What struck me the most was how Latinas, who are of similar or lower incomes, can chase and afford their dreams of collegiate sports?”

Travieso, who played in 40 games and batted .262 this season, collecting 32 hits for second best on the Big Red team, along with 16 runs batted in and seven doubles, also second best, added: “Understanding the disparities present within my community inspired me to create ELLA, aiming to level the playing field by creating opportunities for young female Latina athletes,” she said.

Patty, who is currently the Director of Nursing for the Department of Health Services and has been a registered nurse for 32 years, and her husband Manuel, who is the head softball coach at Providence and are residents of Burbank since 1998, chimed in on why ELLA was founded.

Mother Patty Travieso and daughter Lilly Travieso, who plays softball at Cornell University, founded ELLA, a non-profit to help young female Latina athletes. (Photo courtesy Lilly Travieso)

“When my daughter Lilly started playing competitive softball and began to explore her college options, I realized the many inequalities that exist in the softball community for Latina athletes,” she explained. “There is a heavy burden associated with financial expenses for athletes as they play competitively and begin to explore college options. This financial burden is tied to travel club fees, uniforms, equipment, coaching, physical conditioning, athletic camps, SAT/ACT prep classes, as well as all the expenses associated with traveling.”

Born in El Salvador, Patty Travieso, who holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s in health administration and a master’s in nursing from Cal State Fullerton, continued: “My family’s own experiences of living in a middle-class household required us to live on a tight budget to be able to afford my daughter’s travel softball team in order to get the exposure she needed,” she noted. “One thing that has puzzled us over the years, our daughter who played travel softball, is how other young Latina athletes living in a similar or lower-class household could afford all these expenses in order to be prepared and have the same college options our daughter had. My daughter’s first-hand experience with these inequalities in the sports community for Latinas, inspired us to create a non-profit organization called ELLA, which will help level the playing field by creating opportunities for young female Latina athletes.”

How exactly does ELLA help those in need?

“ELLA has expanded relationships within the Latino community and increased the community’s awareness of the sports recruitment process and leadership and higher education preparedness through sports, with the ultimate goal being to encourage and empower young Latinas to break cultural conformities and excel in their future careers,” Lilly Travieso said.

Travieso, who finished with a .951 fielding percentage, continued: “Over the last year, ELLA has offered ongoing mentorship programs and recruitment events that have offered 300 plus young Latina’s opportunities to build their athletic skills, learn best practices around the college athletics recruitment process, and articulate their higher education goals,” she pointed out.

Beside softball, other sports are being assisted by ELLA according to Lilly Travieso.

“While initially focused on softball, ELLA is expanding its scope into soccer and golf in the coming year and has made connections with the track and field community through events such as the L.A. Marathon, building a foundation for further growth,” she said. “As diversity and equality continue to be at the forefront of our lives, sports have opened many doors to higher education; there are, however, still gaps in knowledge and mentorship particularly for young Latinas in navigating the system of sports recruitment. Through continued foundation building and outreach, ELLA is looking forward to future collaboration with the NCAA in making significant changes that will level the playing field for all women in college sports and fix the gender disparities.”

For Lilly and Patty, this is just the beginning and with time, it’s going to help hundreds, if not thousands of young athletes.

Lilly Travieso (No. 20) is shown with some of her Cornell softball teammates. (Photo courtesy Lilly Travieso)

“The foundation is expanding relationships with the Latino community by developing programs that will increase awareness and knowledge. There is a huge misconception among the Latino community about being able to afford private high schools and or top universities,” Lilly Travieso said. “The ELLA Foundation works on bridging this gap of knowledge with the ultimate goal to support young female Latinas to become leaders of tomorrow through sports and academic excellence. Through our programs, we work on developing leadership in Latina athletes through education, training, mentorship, and advocacy in the sports community.”

Travieso went on: “As the voice of ELLA, I help young female athletes by sharing my struggles and accomplishments throughout my recruitment journey,” she added. “I bring knowledge and awareness that Latinas can have the same opportunities if they are educated and feel empowered. Empowering young girls promotes a true, yes you can mentality.”

How hard was it to get ELLA started and to keep it in motion?

“One myth that I encountered while founding the organization was that you needed to have a lot of money to start,” Lilly Travieso said. “However, the truth is that all you need is a vision, mission, and people who support you. Once you get a following and expand awareness of your goal, people will gravitate towards it.”

No doubt there is a special gratification in having founded ELLA and to see it grow and blossom to where it is currently.

“The most satisfying aspect of our non-profit is to be able to turn our dream into a reality. The following are the main components of our success,” Lilly Travieso said.

1. A vision – Everything starts with an idea; it is what you do with that idea that matters.

2. Support system – It is extremely hard to do things alone, which makes a network of people essential for growth. With a support system that believes in your mission, you can continue to move your foundation/company in the right direction.

3. Awareness – We strive to bring awareness to our foundation by serving local, national, and international Latina communities. Through grassroots, social media, and other media outlets we hope to eventually create a recognizable brand, reaching additional supporters.

4. Risk taking – Risks are required to undertake huge ideas. As with all sports, failure is a part of the game. You will never succeed if you are afraid and don’t take the first step.

5. Knowledge – The more knowledge you have, the less costly mistakes will be made. Mistakes are inevitable, but they serve as learning opportunities.

What does Patty Travieso see as some of the obstacles of running a non-profit?

Lilly Travieso had a solid sophomore season for the Big Red. (Photo courtesy Lilly Travieso)

“The main challenge facing the foundation today in the Latino community is the financial inequality that exists in the sports community. Along with the cultural misconceptions regarding educational advancements of Latinas in the United States,” she said. “The foundation works to strengthen Latinas by developing strong Latina leaders that will impact their communities while establishing their own legacy through sports as they excel in life.”

What’s it been like for Travieso, whose best game came on April 24 at Yale when she drove in four runs, collecting three hits including two doubles, being a part of the Cornell softball team?

“My experience studying and playing softball at Cornell has been incredible overall. The collegiate student-athlete life has taught me so many lessons and skills that have challenged me to grow as a person,” she said. “It is not easy to live 3,000 miles away from home and in a completely different climate. Not all Californians get easily acquainted with living in cold weather. I’m fortunate enough to have the support of my parents, friends, teammates, and coaches.”

Travieso said the initial year was trying, but that’s all in the past. “My first year as a freshman, 2020, was extremely challenging due to the pandemic. We didn’t have a season and had minimal practice and conditioning,” she said. “Our classes were hybrid, we had minimal contact with faculty, students, and other athletes. We also had to isolate 14 days prior to starting classes and as athletes, we were required to get COVID tested two times a week.”

Though COVID-19 is still present, this season has been significantly better.

“As a sophomore this year, things are almost back to normal. I’m now truly experiencing the life of a college athlete,” Travieso said. “I have in-person classes and a full Ivy League game schedule. We practice, lift, and travel to play.”

Travieso hopes to spend more time with the non-profit before classes begin in the fall.

“I’m a full-time student-athlete, therefore my time with the foundation is extremely limited,” she noted. “However, I do everything I can to spend my summers and winter breaks fully invested in the foundation by conducting camps, clinics, and mentorship sessions within my community. This coming summer I plan to have a few skill camps in Burbank for our young female softball athletes.”

Patty Travieso knows that the end results are what matters most.

“Supporting young Latinas to become leaders of tomorrow through sports and academic excellence, the ELLA Foundation works on developing leadership in Latina athletes through education, training, mentorship, and advocacy in the sports community,” she said. “ELLA is expanding relationships with the Latino community by increasing awareness and knowledge in leadership development and higher education through sports.”