Pilar Pinel sold her home in 2003 and took the money plus everything in her retirement fund to finance Embracing Latina Leadership Alliances, or ELLAS, a nonprofit that works for the educational, professional and political advancement of young Hispanic women.

Her work has benefited some 2,400 women in the Greater Los Angeles area through annual conferences, and very particularly with a program for training students from eighth grade until they graduate from high school.

"We've found that students don't know exactly what they need in order to gain access to higher education. We make sure to show young women how to get the best qualifications for being accepted into college, and to understand what opportunities exist and how best to take advantage of them," Pinel said in an interview with Efe.

But above all this 53-year-old San Diego native is focused on the fact that Hispanic women in the United States can have more successful careers that put them in a position to take decisions and do work that has an influence on the community.

"We're getting stuck in jobs that have no relation to the power of our community. When I left high school, my parents told me that as a woman I ought to be most concerned about marrying well, and since I had a certain skill in the kitchen, they would support me if I wanted to study to become a pastrycook," Pinel, the daughter of a Costa Rican father and Mexican-American mother, recalled.

Though she acknowledges the good intentions behind her parents' idea and the great example of work and struggle they always gave her, she cites the need for a change of focus in Latino families about the role and power of women.

"I do everything I can not only to help this generation of Hispanic women see that no careers are impossible, but also to motivate them to become the next company presidents, high-court judges, university presidents, doing things even beyond those projects we sometimes dream of," she said.

She added that "there's nothing wrong with the steps we take in life as women. Once we have our diploma and then decide to marry and concentrate on raising a family, that's respectable - but no one can take our education away from us, and if somewhere down the road we have to enter professional life, we're ready."

Recently the L'Oreal Paris firm announced the 10 winners of its 6th annual Women of Worth prizes, to be awarded on Dec. 8 in New York in recognition of the work women do who fight tirelessly on behalf of social and philanthropic causes.

Each winner will receive $10,000 to continue pursuing those activities, and among those chosen this year, Pilar Pinel was the only Hispanic.

"I invite all young women not to accept defeat - we can even turn the tough circumstances in which many of us have had to live into opportunities. We must simply dare to move forward and the changes will start happening," she said.