Heading up two programs at Leadership Pikes Peak is 29-year-old project manager, Sloan Gonzales.

Gonzales is in charge of the Women’s Community Leadership Initiative — a program for women who recently experienced a crisis and/or are going through a transition, and Leadership NOW!, which helps young professionals develop leadership skills and become engaged with the many elements of Colorado Springs. Both programs fall under Sloan’s purview and, though they are different, she enjoys the self-growth journey of WCLI and the self-development and goal-setting found through LNOW!.

A Doherty High School graduate, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in sociology and master’s degree in communications from UCCS.

Gonzales has always been engaged in the community. Her parents taught her to be active in the community from a very early age and, after high school, she went right to work at a nonprofit.

In addition to her duties at Leadership Pikes Peak, Gonzales is also a lecturer at UCCS, where she teaches business and intercultural communication. She is married and mother to a 1-year-old boy.

How long have you been involved with Leadership Pikes Peak?

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I’ve been on staff for two years but I did the LNOW! program in 2013 and stayed involved. I’m a firm believer that if you want to work in nonprofits, volunteer first. If you’re known, it’s easier to get a job. … I love it. … There’s something about [helping others that] creates intentional space for your own self-development that allows for growth to happen. Being able to help cultivate and create that … and watching others fall in love with the city … is a fun experience.

How does the Women’s Community Leadership Initiative help women?

It’s our most diverse program at Leadership Pikes Peak. We have women who are 25 and women who are 65, from all walks of life. The program really focuses on … women in transition, such as navigating being a mom, navigating abuse, navigating a divorce, navigating homelessness or a serious crisis. In that transition, [women] don’t create space for self-development — they’re taking care of everyone else. And then they get stuck and they stop growing. … It’s because they haven’t focused on self-development and self-growth. WCLI is about literally creating that space. We meet every other week and help them discover their leadership [potential]. This program is much more focused on self-growth and self-identity.

Any challenges with the WCLI program?

I could put it in my calendar. About the middle of March, about half the women try to quit. It’s that element of — when you start to grow and develop yourself — something in you going, ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m just a fake.’ And your instinct is just to retreat right away. Our sessions are catered to that runaway mentality. … We show them there’s more here if they stay with us.

Talk about your background.

I grew up in a biracial home. My mom was Hispanic and my dad African-American. My dad’s a lieutenant colonel in the Army. My parents came from extreme poverty, large families — they had to really fight to get where they were.

Growing up, we were taught, ‘You will be better. … Even in elementary school [they said] ‘You will not sit in the back of class. You will talk in class. You will be engaged.’

I think growing up … we were taught to strive for more … My dad used to ask us kids, ‘Are you an eagle or a pigeon?’ … because an eagle flies high above everyone else. They’re focused on where they want to go; they don’t care what’s happening around them; they know what they want. Whereas a pigeon is among everything. They’re worried about this and that, where this is coming from, and there’s thousands of them. No one says, ‘Oh, did you see that pigeon today?’ But they’ll say, ‘Did you see that eagle?’

… My mom had me when she was 19. I don’t know my biological father. My mom met my dad when I was 3 and he adopted me legally. Growing up in a biracial household, that’s an interesting element because I was struggling with my own identity. I didn’t look like my dad but he was my dad, and my siblings were my siblings. … From an early age, I had to understand how my identity impacted me … which is why I like to study it and recognize it in others.