Challenging times. That sentiment was shared multiple times over the two days UnidosUS Affiliates gathered in El Paso for our second Fall Affiliate Convening of the year.
Being in El Paso made those challenging times even more real, present at the city where 22 people, the majority Hispanics, were the victims of a hate crime and lost their lives in a mass shooting last August. Our El Paso Affiliates, YWCA El Paso Del Norte Region, Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, Project VIDA Health Center, and Project BRAVO, welcomed 72 attendees from 38 Affiliates, representing all six regions of our Affiliate Network, on Thursday, November 7.
It was an emotional beginning to the convening, remembering that fateful Saturday morning, talking about the families they are directly helping in the aftermath of the massacre, but most of all embracing the El Paso community’s resilience.
By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist at UnidosUS
We were in a large room at one of the YWCA’s sites, but 72 people filled it up quickly. Dr. Sylvia Acosta, CEO of the organization’s El Paso Del Norte Region, joked: “Aquí como en nuestras casas, everyone close together like with our families, como en familia.” A fun bingo ice-breaker followed the welcome and gave our Affiliates a chance to meet each other. After a short break, it was time to get to work.
The session “Building a Movement for Social Change,” challenged our attendees to think about the meaning of power. Rosa Julia Garcia Rivera, Chief Operating Officer at Gads Hill Center, posed the question, and words like “impact,” “money,” “knowledge,” and “access” resonated around the room.
The programs and services our Affiliates offer are helping our families and communities right now in specific issues, but what was presented at this session by our Chicago Affiliates Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC) and Gads Hill Center was the idea of creating a paradigm shift: moving from direct services to direct action, from seeing our families as clients to seeing them as actors of change, creating leaders from our communities to build power. These two Affiliates have successfully impletemented these practices, and shared the how-to’s during their session.
James Rudyk, Executive Director of NWSHC, explained that their approach for involving the community in the Belmont Cragin area of Chicago was to ask them: “What is important to you?” and they took that model even further, asking that same question to their board and potentional leaders who can join their mission: “We have intentional conversations with them, asking questions to uncover what is important to them and finding the intersection with what’s important to our organization,” Rudyk shared. The NWSHC team showcased a role play session about how to conduct this one-on-one, and all attendees then had the chance to practice and continue learning from one another.
Partnerships in the corporate world
In our second session of the day, we continued expanding best practices among our Affiliates, this time speaking about “Building a Sustainable Strategic Partnership with Corporate Partners.” Dr. Acosta was joined by Laura Ponce, Executive Director of Project BRAVO, and René O. Deida, Corporate Social Responsibility of Prudential Financial, to speak openly about their relationship.
Prudential, a partner of UnidosUS, is invested in El Paso community, and they came to us to find organizations they could partner with, knowing we have a network of nearly 300 Affiliates throughout the country. Through their partnership with UnidosUS, Prudenial was able to connect to YWCA El Paso Del Norte Region and Project BRAVO, and they have now identified ways in which Prudential can be involved with these organizations: they are working on STEM-based programs with YWCA, and on improving the living conditions of Project BRAVO’s families.
Also, during the Fall Convening, UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía visited Prudential’s headquarters in El Paso to learn more about their college, internship, and leadership programs in partnership with the Universiry of Texas, El Paso.
Leaders changing communities
The afternoon sessions started with a panel on “Responsive Leadership,” where Roger Gonzales, Executive Director of CPLC New Mexico (Chicanos Por La Causa); Laura Ponce; and Ruby Azurdia-Lee, President of Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio, spoke about their effective leadership roles.
Gonzales emphasized the word “responsive”: “We have to be responsive and resilient leaders, not just react,” he shared. CPLC New Mexico’s work is focused on providing services to change lives, that’s their mission, and they understand the importance of being at a convening like this one: “UnidosUS allows us to create connections with organizations around the country. Take advantage of that,” he encouraged attendees.
For Ponce, responsive leadership means to take care of your team so they can be empowered to serve our families, and conducts a needs assessment every few years to ensure that Project BRAVO’s programs and services still align with the needs of the community.
Azurdia-Lee’s leadership focus is on moving CLUES’s services from transactional to transformational, challenging and disrupting the system, looking into the root issues that are not allowing our community succeed and to create the programs that will.
Fighting against hate
The last two afternoon sessions and evening reception were held at Project VIDA Health Centers’ (PVHC) headquarters and their beautiful terrace where we could enjoy an astonishing view of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. At PVHC, Jeremy Shaver, Senior Associate Regional Director for the Mountain States Region of the Anti-Defamation League, gave a presentation on hate crimes, a topic especially touching in this context and one our Affiliates really wanted to learn more about.
Linked to this session, our last presentation was about UnidosUS’s ALAS I: Welcoming LGBTQ Community tool kit. Leticia Hart, Senior Program Manager of Higher Education at UnidosUS, presented the tool kit to our Affiliates for them to use it in their spaces as needed, and Sandra Rodriguez, Program Coordinator for Teen Pregnancy Prevention at PVHC, explained how their organization has work toward becoming a more inclusive space: “It started with organizational changes, educating and building the capacity of our own staff,” Sandra explained.
Taking care of our democracy
The next day, El Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe hosted its fellow Affiliates. The goal of the second day of the convening was to show our Affiliates how to continue leveraging the UnidosUS partnership, with organizations that have been in the network longer guiding the newer or less engaged Affiliates to take advantage of UnidosUS’s expertise and resources. Viviana López-Green, Senior Director of Affiliate Engagement and lead organizer of the convening, led the discussion.
Max Gonzalez, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Relationship Management at Chicanos Por La Causa, described how CPLC utilized UnidosUS’s knowledge to grow. María Pinzón, President and Executive Director of Hispanic Serivices Council, spoke about using our education and health programs to impact our community in Florida.
The last of our Fall Convenings finished with a panel moderated by UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía on “Building Latino Political Empowerment.” During her opening remarks, Murguía announced that this election cycle, UnidosUS will double our voter registration efforts in Texas to ensure our community is registered to vote and goes to the polls in November 2020. The panelists were Dr. Acosta; Adriana Cadena, Texas Alliances Coordinator at the Border Network for Human Rights; Luis Garza, Executive Director of Comunidades Unidas; Cheryl Sproles, Director of Community Relations at Su Clínica; and Clarissa Martínez De Castro, Deputy Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS.
The panelists spoke on the importance of civic engagement to protect democracy, and our Affiliates Su Clínica and Comunidades Unidas talked about two of UnidosUS’s civic engagement programs that they are implementing: the Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Program (LEAP) the High School Democracy Project, respectively.
After two fully packed days, our Affiliates returned to their communities inspired and ready to continue building resilient leaders. On our part, we still had two more important visits in El Paso: Janet Murguía had the honor of meeting with families of the mass shooting at Project BRAVO, and she also visited the memorial set up outside of the Walmart where the tragedy happened.
An emotional end to a convening full learning opportunities, connections created, and momentum built.
You can find all the resources from the convening here.