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Project DIVA International accompanies girls in their dreams


SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. — Sky is the limit. We’ve all heard the saying, but for a Minnesota woman, it’s not just a saying.

Neda Kellogg makes the seemingly impossible possible for young girls, helping them realize their dreams and reach their full potential.

She’s only 12, but Leeanna Pineda is aiming pretty high. For the first time, Pineda pilots an airplane.

“There are a lot of feelings right now,” she said. “I’m going to feel like I’ve achieved everything I wanted to do.”

The rising eighth-grader is a member of Project DIVA International, a Minnesota-based program started by Kellogg. Now in its 15th year, the program has impacted the lives of 5,000 girls like Pineda.

“If we could give them those life experiences with school, like now Leanna, when she goes to school, she’s going to get what she needs for the vision,” Kellogg said.

A daughter following in her mother’s footsteps.

“She draws courage from me,” said Karen Pineda, Leeanna’s mother.

A second generation connecting their biggest dreams with support to achieve them.

“I’m the eldest daughter of a working family, so I had to learn about myself growing up because my parents were always at work,” Karen Pineda said. “When I got to high school, God blessed me with this new program that Ms. Kellogg started. She didn’t know where the program was going, but somehow the program helped me to come out of my shell.”

“Our goal is for them to have a really good grounding in their inner being,” Kellogg said. “Mental health is so essential for our girls right now.”

Research shows that the pandemic has only increased the need for mental health help among young girls. Kellogg hopes her program can be a space for girls to heal and discover who they are and who they want to be.

“We’re giving black girls, black Native American girls, descendants of slaves, a space to really be,” Kellogg said. “He teaches girls early on that they can take ownership of how they feel and what they envision early on, they don’t have to wait until they’re adults to do that.”

Tony Cadotte is a community partner and owner of Cadotte Aero.

“Every child wants to learn,” he said. “It’s the confidence you get doing that… Whether she keeps flying or not, it’s kind of a metaphor for everything else she could do in life.”

And just like that, a dream comes true.

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“I feel amazing. I feel relieved. I don’t know, it’s a lot of emotions. I just got back from my first flight,” Leeanna Pineda said.

A girl who absorbs everything, comes face to face with what is possible.

“When you take your first flight, it’s like touching a cloud and I’ve touched four or five clouds,” said Leeanna Pineda. “There aren’t many other 12-year-olds who can say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m with this band, I can fly a plane.’ “Once I’m 17, I’ll have my pilot’s license. I never thought I’d be able to say that… It’s so good on so many different levels. You can’t really explain it.”

The aviation club is just one of the many offers of the DIVA International project. Others include an entrepreneurship club and academies focusing on travel, investing, business, real estate, career exploration and self-love.

The organization raises funds to make these experiences possible. To donate, learn more or get involved, click here.

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