NCLR Affiliate Spotlight: People Are at the Heart of Hispanic Unity Florida

By David Castillo, Digital Content Manager, NCLR


Community-based organizations exist to help people in myriad ways by making sure they have the necessary resources to live and prosper. To serve people well, the heads of such organizations must be thoughtful about the team they assemble to carry out the organization’s mission. For this month’s Affiliate Spotlight, Hispanic Unity Florida (HUF), having the right team in place is a source of pride.

“We serve more than 17,000 people annually in the areas of civic engagement, economic development, and education,” said Josie Bacallao, HUF President and CEO. “We also have an incredible team that has been with us for a very long time, at every level, who has incredible dedication and passion for the work that they do.”

Though the organization has experienced some rough, unexpected moments during the height of the Great Recession, dedication to HUF’s mission never waned among staff members, said Bacallao.

HUFLOGOIt’s a good thing, too, because HUF provides much-needed services to their neighbors. HUF’s mission is to empower people, primarily Latino immigrants, in becoming self-sufficient and leading productive lives. The group also works on helping immigrants become civically engaged, of which the first step is becoming a U.S. citizen.

“When you look at the continuum of immigrants to the U.S., whether you’ve been here for only three months or for 15 years, we help them with everything from learning English to transitioning into becoming a U.S. citizen,” said Bacallao.

Hispanic Unity Florida’s civic engagement work is especially important. Programs include an eight-week citizenship class and eight drop-in classes, both of which serve South Florida’s tri-county (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach) area. These two programs alone serve more than 1,500 people a year. Both are volunteer-run. HUF is also recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as a BIA—Board of Immigration Appeals—organization, which allows it to provide naturalization assistance. The majority of the 1,500 people HUF serves in this area become American citizens.

NCLR’s citizenship team has provided HUF with funding and technical assistance in its civic engagement work. HUF was able to grow from one class to nine and eventually have a strong enough program to be supported through U.S. Customs and Immigration Services. HUF attributes its success to NCLR’s support and guidance. HUF was also recently named 2015 Southeast Affiliate of the Year at NCLR’s Annual Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

HUF2_blogsizeWhile HUF has been engaged in growing their civic engagement capacity, that work is just one of many services our Affiliate provides. From helping people enroll in a qualified health plan through the Affordable Care Act to providing employment services, no matter what their clients need, HUF staff and volunteers do their best to help them.

“We really take the time to discover what our client’s needs are in order to help them—there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Oftentimes, clients come in for just one service, for example just looking for a job, but many leave taking advantage of our many services and transform their lives in the process,” said Bacallao.

As for the future, HUF and its volunteer leaders are currently engaged in developing a strategic plan to map it out. They’re also working to close the Medicaid gap, as more than 800,000 Floridians still lack health coverage. Bacallao says they also plan to continue helping immigrants integrate into the community.

No matter what their programmatic work looks like going forward, one thing is for sure: HUF’s core mission will stay the same and they will continue to empower a new generation of Americans.

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