The organizations that make a difference in a community of any size are legion and I am always struck by how little I know about the nonprofits impacting people’s lives in my own city. I often find myself assigned to do a story on such organizations and by the time I’m done I feel I have a little better grasp then I had before of what goes on day in and day out in organizations large and small that serve people’s social service and social justice needs. One such institution is the Latino Center of the Midlands, which I profile here along with its executive director Carolina Quezada, who came on board last year in the midst of a tough time for the former Chicano Awareness Center. She and I are happy to report the organization is back on track and that’s good news for the community it serves.
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico
Carolina Quezada took the reins of the Latino Center of the Midlands last August in the wake of its substance abuse program losing funding, executive director Rebecca Valdez resigning and the annual fund raiser being canceled. Despite the travails, Quezada found a resilient organization.
Overcoming obstacles has been par for the course since community organizers started the former Chicano Awareness Center in 1971 to address the needs of underserved peoples. Its story reminds her of the community initiatives she worked for in her native East Los Angeles. She never intended leaving Calif. until going to work for the Iowa West Foundation in 2009. Once here, she found similar challenges and opportunities as she did back home.
“I’ve come full circle. I see so much of what I encountered growing up in L.A. which is parents with very low levels of education wanting their kids to succeed, graduate high school and go to college but often no plan to get them there.,” she says.
“South Omaha is like this microcosm of East L.A. The moment I drove down 24th Street the first time I thought, This is like Whittier Blvd. I felt an instant connection. There’s so much overlap. This sense of close relationship with the grassroots, the sense of community, and how the organization has its beginnings in activism, in that voice of the community. It’s so indicative of how nonprofits in Latino communities have their base in the grassroots voice and in services and issues having to do with social justice.”
Forged as the center was in the ferment of unrest, she’s hardly surprised it’s persevered.
“I am pretty struck by how the agency continues to respond,. It’s always been responsive to what that emerging need is. I think it’s just an inherent part of its DNA.”
She acknowledges the center was rocked by instability in 2011.
“Currently we are in the process of trying to strengthen that stability. Last year was a very difficult year for the agency. There was a transition in leadership, there was funding lost. The agency was still operating but in a very low key way, and I give credit to the board members and staff in making sure the doors remained open. Their passion continues to drive what we do every day.
“One of our greatest core competencies is that love for community and that connection to our people. When people come through our doors they are greeted by people who look like them and speak their language. It’s their culture. I’m very proud the Latino Center keeps that piece very close to its heart.”
She says in this era of escalating costs and competition for scarcer resources, nonprofits like hers must be adaptable, collaborative and creative “to survive.
“There is much more a need to be strategic. It’s not just about being a charity. Now it’s about being an institution that takes on a lot more of the business model and looks at diversifying funding sources.”
In her view Nebraska offers some advantages.
“Because the economy is better here the environment for nonprofits is a little better. You have funders who are strong, engaged, committed and very informed. I think a lot of it has to do with the strength of their foundations and the culture of the Midwest. People really care about getting involved and building community.
“Last year was very tough. Not having the annual fundraiser really hurt the agency. But there’s been some renewed investment in the organization from funders. There is a very strong interest in collaborating with Latino Center of the Midlands from other organizations and funders and community leaders.”
Omaha’s come to expect the agency being there.
“Because of our 40-plus year history people know to come to us. We get a lot of walk-ins. We convene large groups of people here on a regular basis because of the wide array of classes we offer. We are still making an impact in parent engagement and basic adult education. We work with parents having a difficult time getting their kids to attend school on a regular basis.
“But we also deal with all sorts of other issues that come through our doors. We get requests for assistance with immigration, other legal issues, social services. We do referrals for all sorts of things. We’ve also started inviting partners to come offer their services here – WCA, OneWorld Community Health, UNMC’s Center for Health Disparities, Planned Parenthood. So we become a very attractive partner to other organizations that want to partner in the Latino community.
“We cannot do our work well if we’re not building strong partnerships with others.”
She says she and her board “are formulating some specific directions we want to take the organization in” with help from the Omaha Community Foundation‘s capacity building collaborative. “We have to look at those support networks for how we build capacity and we’re very fortunate to count on the support of the Community Foundation. We’re working with their consultants to look at our strategic initiatives, fund raising, board recruitment, programs and projects. We’re looking at where our impact has been and what the needs are in the community.”
She feels the center is well poised for the future.
“We realize we have a lot of work to do but there’s a lot of optimism and energy about where the agency could go.”
Best of all, the annual fund raiser returns July 23. “I’m so happy it’s going to be back,” says Quezada. Check for details on that and ongoing programs-services at http://www.latinocenterofthemidlands.org.
- Evangelina “Gigi” Brignoni Immerses Herself in Community Affairs (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Jose and Linda Garcia Find a New Outlet for their Magnificent Obsession in the Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- “Paco” Proves You Can Come Home Again (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- African Presence in Spanish America Explored in Three Presentations (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- PBS WIll Air New Documentary On Latinos (huffingtonpost.com)
Author-journalist-blogger Leo Adam Biga resides in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. He writes newspaper-magazine stories about people, their passions, and their magnificent obsessions. He's the author of the books "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter's Perspective 1998-2012," a compilation of his journalism about the acclaimed filmmaker, and "Open Wide" a biograpy of Mark Manhart. Biga co-edited "Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores." His popular blog, leoadambiga.wordpress.com, is an online gallery of his work.
- Omaha's #1 catfish/spaghetti dinner tomorrow Church of the Resurrection 3004 Belvedere Blvd. Good eats-Low prices-Supports kids 402-455-7015 1 month ago
- Brad Ashford Reflects on Recent Omaha Mayoral Primary Loss and the Politics He Espouses nblo.gs/KrZ7t 1 month ago
- The Omaha Star Celebrates 75 Years of Black Woman Legacy nblo.gs/Kbvhb 1 month ago
My Favorite Tags
My Favorite Categories
Calendar of Blog Posts
Categories from A to Z and # of Posts
- 'Lovely, Still' is that Rare Film Depicting Seniors in All Their Humanity
- Long-Separated Brother and Sister from Puerto Rico Reunited in Omaha
- Brandeis Story: Great Plains Family-Owned Department Store Empire
- The Storz Saga: A Family Dynasty - Their Mansion, the Brewery that Built It, the Man Who Loved It, a Legacy of Giving, the Loss of a Dream
- Wright On, Adam Wright Has it All Figured Out Both On and Off the Football Field
- From the Archives: Peony Park Not Just an Amusement Playground, But a Multi-Use Events Facility
- Santa Lucia Festival, Omaha Style
- The Tuskegee Airmen
- In Her 101 Years, Ex-Vaudeville Dancer Maude Wangberg has Lived a Whirl of Splendor
- One Day at a Time, A Recovering Alcoholic's Story
- Just returned from Hollywood to visit Alexander Payne finish "Nebraska"; Watch for my coming stories about what I observed
- When Laura Met Alex: Laura Dern & Alexander Payne Get Deep About Collaborating on 'Citizen Ruth' and Their Shared Cinema Sensibilities
- Getting Straight: Compassion in Action Expands Work Serving Men, Women and Children Touched by the Judicial and Penal System
- Tapestries to celebrate Omaha neighborhoods; Theater by any other name
- Artists running with opportunity to go to the next level; Carver Bank resident artists bring new life to area
- Just returned from Hollywood to visit Alexander Payne finish “Nebraska”; Watch for my coming stories about what I observed
- Come to My Next Alexander Payne Book Signing: Saturday, May 11 at The Bookworm in Omaha
- Bruce Crawford’s Unexpected Movie-Movie Life, Omahan Salutes Classic Hollywood Films with Panache: See Shirley Jones and ‘Carousel” May 24
- Shirley Jones Interview: Classic Hollywood Star to Appear at May 24 Omaha Screening of ‘Carousel’
- The Old Market’s Late Godfather Samuel Mercer Casts Long Shadow in Omaha
- Laura Love: Omaha’s High Yaller Gal Comes Home
- Kevin Lawler Guides Ever Evolving Theater Conference to Put More Focus on Fewer Plays and Playwrights and to Connect Deeper with Community
- Bro. Mike Wilmot and Gesu Housing: Building Neighborhoods and Community, One House at a Time
- Good Time to Get Your Copy of the Alexander Payne Book
- 266,368 hits