Centro Hispano hosts Race To Equity Discussion
Announces $100,000 grant from CUNA Mutual to help address disparities
by A. David Dahmer
On June 27, the Centro Hispano board of directors, staff, and Executive Director Karen Menéndez Coller hosted a Race To Equity Discussion for invited community leaders, supporters, and the media to outline the agency’s programmatic vision. Part of this vision is a continued commitment to fostering strong Latino youth, but also a renewed emphasis on services that center on thriving families meant to ensure adolescent success both inside and outside of school.
“[Founding Centro Hispano Executive Director] Ilda Thomas was so committed to empowering Latinos in Dane County,” said Gloria Reyes, president of the board of directors of Centro Hispano. “When given the opportunity to join Centro’s board of directors, I often asked myself when making decisions, ‘What would have Ilda wanted?’ What was her vision?’ When we walk through the doors of Centro, we’re met with that vision. The beautiful murals that say to our community, ‘Welcome home.’
“Centro is a place where leaders are made and for our young people and families, a place where they can go home,” Reyes added. “I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Ilda Thomas but I do know that her passion continues to live by those who have been empowered at Centro.
“As we move into our Race to Equity discussion, we know that there still is a lot of work to be done,” she continued. “With your support and partnerships and our awesome executive director Karen [Menéndez Coller] we will continue to serve our growing Latino community while ensuring that Centro’s vision lives through all of the people that we serve.
Located on Madison’s south side, Centro Hispano was founded in 1983, has an estimated annual budget of $1.4 million and employs 15 people full-time. Service areas focus on fostering thriving families and include case management, legal advocacy and employment services for adults and youth services that span a breadth of areas, including academic support, leadership development, school engagement, and career awareness for Latino youth.
Menéndez Coller said Dane County’s fastest-growing minority group is facing disparities in key areas including income, education, and employment.
“In our strategic planning sessions at Centro we have really talked about the direction that we want to go,” Menéndez Coller said. “I really think our goal is to create thriving youth, thriving families, and thriving communities. At Centro, we work around education, we work around employment, we work around support. We work around empowering communities so they can empower themselves to have adequate health behaviors.”
Menéndez Coller said that since the ‘90s there has been a huge growth of Latinos in Madison. “A lot of them are men coming here because they want to get employment,” she told the crowd. “Before in the past, there were a lot of Latinos coming here who were very well-educated and tied to the university. It’s not the same any more. We now have a working-class community that needs different resources and different help.
“Hispanics are a very diverse group and they are very youthful. This is a community that is going to grow and it will age in years to come,” she added.
Menéndez Coller said that the point of Centro’s programs is to tackle the underlying root of disparities in areas of education, employment, and income in a sensitive fashion that will prevent gaps from growing at the level they are in other parts of the country
“Our families that we see here are struggling. They come here and they have a lot of anxiety and a lot of depression and a lot of issues trying to blend in,” she said. “There are all of these factors — knowing English; not knowing English. It’s a very complicated and complex situation that requires a lot of management. It’s one of the things that Centro is really focused on and doing it in the right way.”
Menéndez Coller talked about making Centro a hub. “I want everybody to say that they do fabulous programming at Centro that is grounded in evidence because they respect their community,” Menéndez Coller said. “Everything that we do has to be driven by our families. That’s the goal.”
She also talked about creating community outreach teams at Centro. “Community outreach teams on the south side neighborhoods can draw Latinos out from isolation into services at Centro but can also go out and provide services to the community,” Menéndez Coller said.
Menéndez Coller said that she wants Centro to emerge in 5 or 10 years from now as a leader in the national dialog around Latino issues. “I want everybody here today to be a part of that. Everybody here contributes to that dialog,” she said. “I want to be here to work with you and to listen to you and to be able to put a face to our community. As you can tell, our community is very complex.
“Our vision at Centro is that Dane County will be a community where Latinos can aspire upward,” Menéndez Coller continued. “That is a very rare statement to say in the U.S. — where Latinos families can aspire upward. Most of our families don’t aspire upwards to reach their own personal goals and dreams and feel engaged and strengthened with the tools for success. Not because we are not doing it for them; but because they are empowered to do it for themselves.”
To close out the event, it was announced that Centro Hispano will use a $100,000 grant awarded by CUNA Mutual Foundation to expand its role as a central source of services and referrals for Hispanic youth and families who face growing disparities in their community.
“This generous grant from CUNA Mutual Foundation is definitely a vote of confidence for Centro Hispano’s system-wide programming. They clearly understand a comprehensive approach is needed to tackle the disparities that exist in our community,” said Menéndez Coller. “This is a great investment in us and our families’ futures. This grant will help us to broaden our ability to focus on families and be proactive in our outreach beyond crisis situations.”
“We admire the work Centro has already done, but we are truly inspired and excited by the direction it is taking with its new strategic plan,” said Steve Goldberg, executive director of CUNA Mutual Foundation. “We know Centro will use this grant to strengthen its capacity as a central source of service, education, and referral for our Latino families and children.”