There’s no denying that Centro Hispano of Dane County’s profile is continuing to rise in the city of Madison and beyond. Centro is no longer the obscure agency tucked away on Badger Road on Madison’s south side. The success of its programs and the community partnerships they have formed are starting to get some buzz in the broader community. And nothing really raises their profile more than their signature event, the annual Centro Hispano Banquet.

“People are asking more and more questions about us. I just did a podcast around immigration statewide and I’ve found that people are really curious about the community, which I think is wonderful,” says Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller. “So many people are asking about Centro and asking about Latinos and about how they can get involved. I feel like there definitely has been some growth over the last couple of years and we want to keep that going.”

The 27th annual Centro Hispano Banquet will be a chance for the entire community to come together to recognize the achievements of area youth and successful leaders in our community and to honor the gracious community support that has made Centro’s successes possible. This annual signature event, which will be held Saturday, Nov. 12, 6-11 p.m., at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, is also a chance to celebrate the continued growth of Centro.

Reports show the Latino population in Dane County has more than doubled over the last decade, and it has been important for Centro Hispano — whose mission involves empowering youth, strengthening families, and engaging community — to grow, too.

“We’ve formed some really key partnerships in this city over the year. I think it’s really important for us to back each other up and to really form the trust and relationships in this community,” Menendez Coller tells Madison365. “It’s important that we know that we each have each other’s back. And I want to use that as a launching pad for next year. I want to do that even more. I think it will set the tone for people to ask: What does community really mean in this city?”

Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller (middle) with Dora Zuniga (left) and Lucia Nunez at a previous Centro Annual Banquet.
Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller (middle) with Dora Zuniga (left) and Lucia Nunez at a previous Centro Annual Banquet.

Menendez Coller says that it is Centro’s mission to nurture the dreams of the Latino community. That coincides with the theme of this year’s annual banquet which is simply “DREAM.”

“We’re asking everybody if they have a dream for Centro or a dream for the community to hit up #CentroDREAM [on Twitter]. They can even do it right now,” Menendez Coller says. “At the event, I will be speaking about the dreams of our agency and our city and really the state, in some ways.”

This is the fourth Centro Banquet for Menendez Coller who was hired after an extensive search in August of 2013 and remembers having a steep learning curve to get her first Centro Banquet quickly organized. “My first big thing [as a Centro employee] was doing the banquet, like two months after I started,” she says. “So, preparing for the banquet every year brings me back to that time. How stressful it was but also how much we have grown since then.

Scholarship winners are honored at a previous Centro Hispano Annual Banquet.
Scholarship winners are honored at a previous Centro Hispano Annual Banquet.

The annual Centro Banquet has always been a chance to acknowledge the talented youth of the community where scholarship winners are honored. “I think over the last couple of years we really have been transitioning to acknowledge the diversity of programs we have at Centro,” Menendez Coller says. “This year, we will be giving the awards to the scholarship winners and to the community and kind of emphasize how both are equally important for our mission and for our work.

“The annual banquet is really a time to understand the role that Centro plays in the community but to also connect with key players and recognize the impact that everyone is having through their connections with Centro,” she adds. “The annual banquet is a really nice time for our community. I get really reflective. I get really nostalgic, actually.”

In annual Centro Hispano Banquet of the past, there has always been a rather prestigious keynote speaker. However, Menendez Coller says that they have been intentionally not hosting one for the past few events. “The banquet is a time for us to share Centro with everybody. Centro is the highlight of the night,” she says. “So we really want to keep things shorter and keep things moving.”

Community members gather at a previous Centro Hispano Annual Banquet.
Community members gather at a previous Centro Hispano Annual Banquet.

Because, after all, many people come to the annual Centro Hispano Banquet to socialize, listen to music and to, well, dance all night long. “Yeah, that’s true, too,” smiles Menendez Coller. “I want to be sure to mention that Edi Rey y Su Salsera will be playing at this year’s banquet. We’ve been trying to highlight a different musical group every year because there is so much talent here in Madison.”

A special banquet tribute will be paid to Roberto Sánchez, who dedicated his life to helping Latino students achieve academically and to promoting understanding and appreciation of Latino heritage. Sánchez passed away earlier this year. “He was the first Chicano professor at the UW. We’ve always had a very strong connection with him. We acknowledge the Sanchez Scholars at the banquet. He has meant just so much for the local Latino community here,” Menendez Coller says. “There’s going to be a little bit of a surprise at the event as we reflect on his legacy.”

Gerardo Mancilla, director of Education Administration of Edgewood College, will be honored with the Roberto G. Sánchez Award which honors an individual, group or organization that has demonstrated leadership in advancing educational and career opportunities for Latinos.

Dr. Gerardo Mancilla
Dr. Gerardo Mancilla

“Gerardo Mancilla is superspecial because of his involvement with our youth programs and also with the school district. He’s also been very involved with the Roberto Sanchez Scholarship,” Menendez Coller says. “I feel like he’s a silent advocate out there where he’s really been doing a lot and working to improve education for all. We all felt like this was really the time to recognize his work.”

Diego Campoverde-Cisneros, senior communications, PR and marketing coordinator at Unity Health Insurance, will be presented with the Ilda Thomas Award. Over 30 years ago, Ilda Conteris Thomas was the first-ever executive director at Centro Hispano. The award presented in her name honors an individual whose efforts ensure a strong Latino voice in the community.

“Diego is the same way. He’s such a wonderful and complex person. He does things with such great intentions,” Menendez Coller says. “And he’s working in areas where I think we need more of a voice. We really wanted to recognize his approach to doing things and also the work that he is doing and to send a signal that this is what we are acknowledging as an agency.”

Diego Campoverde-Cisneros
Diego Campoverde-Cisneros

All in all, Menendez Coller says that, “We’re superexcited here at Centro. There is a lot going on here.” She says the staff is really united around this annual event. “Usually, they are, but this year I feel like it’s even more,” she says. “We’re really proud of everything we’ve done and this is a great time for us to all come together.

“And it’s also a couple of days after the election, so that sets the tone for the night,” Menendez Coller adds. “I’m pretty pumped for a number of reasons.

Hopefully, people will feel a little more relaxed after the election. “Yeaaaaaaah, I hope so,” Menendez laughs.

“The Banquet is a great networking event and you really get to see some people you haven’t seen in a while,” she adds. “You see people from all walks of life and get connected with people who are doing work in the community. That’s one of the things that I’m really looking forward to.”

Centro Hispano’s 27th Annual Banquet will be held Saturday, Nov. 12, 6-11 p.m. at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

“The banquet wraps up our year and I just like being able to reflect at that time and seeing the faces of youths and adults and all of the supporters all coming together. I love the feeling of unity at the event,” Menendez Coller says. “I feel kinda proud of everything we’re doing. You do so much day to day and you are just going, going, going … so the banquet is a time to really pause and think about everybody that is in this with you and really reflect on our long-term goal for Centro and also for our community.”

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.