–submitted by Ellie Schatz; photo by Mike Engelberger
Karen Menendez Coller, Executive Director of Centro Hispano, began her passionate and substantive discourse by reminding us that Latinos in Dane County are a) a growing community, b) here to stay, and c) a presence.
Statistics show that Latino numbers in our community are great. An 80% growth in population in 5 years, 2010-2015, puts their current buying power at $1.5 trillion. There is a 5:3 ratio of men to women as migrant work brings men to the area. Yet, all the charts and statistics, including those documenting low incomes, poor education rates, and housing problems show us nothing about who Latinos are as fellow community members. Most of us, she says, know little about how they are hardworking, take care of their own, and live by strong family values.
Karen emphasized three key ingredients for equity. First is Stability in the Home. Chaos, unemployment, and chronic stresses work against such stability. Many have lost their social network and cope through addiction. Quality support services are critical, but the fact that a single staff member at Centro Hispano now sees 400 cases per year demonstrates the need for change. An example of one new program that provides a pipeline for job placement and career advancement is Caminos Certified Nursing Assistant Program, a collaborative effort between Centro Hispano and Madison College. Of 70 students enrolled since January 2015, 73% graduated and 82% are employed. Their incomes rose from as low as $7.25 per hour to as high as $20 per hour. 79% of the students went from unemployed or part-time employed to full-time positions.
The second ingredient is Youth Aspirations. Karen says that 31% of the Latino population in the county are under age 18, most of them living with the heavy issues of alcohol, drugs, and risk of pregnancy. The answer is to foster hope and meaning, and the way to do this is to engage the students in school. Centro is using a technique called asset mapping to help youth create a pipeline to graduation. Mentors in the community help student see themselves as well as their peers as assets in the community. Centro Hispano provides a base where each young person can feel safe as he or she engages in fun and meaningful activities.
The third ingredient is the Neighborhood Environment. Outreach, including wellness activities and food equity opportunities, smooths the way toward the end goal: A Thriving Community. Reframing Latino Community Solutions means full inclusion: a community that tells us what they want and becomes engaged in getting there. Solutions include having a community development perspective, using a strategic perspective, and knowing who drives the agenda: the families themselves.
May We Succeed. Here’s to Karen’s call for innovation and engagement NOW.