Business leaders, elected officials and community partners came together online on Thursday morning for the first-ever Virtual Strategic Update for Centro Hispano of Dane County.
The annual breakfast event is usually where dozens and dozens gather in person at Centro Hispano on Madison’s south side, but this year the annual progress update on the agency’s strategic plan was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and community members had to use their Google Chrome browser to access WebinarJam to participate.
Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menéndez Coller said that Centro Hispano thought about canceling the event when the coronavirus pandemic hit, but the Centro team and board of directors decided to keep it going. ‘It’s such an important part of Centro. It gives us vibrancy, and it makes us feel hope,” she said. “So I’m really excited.”
Centro’s mission is to empower youth, strengthen families and engage the community in such a way that Dane County will be a community where Latino families can aspire upward, to reach their personal goals and dreams because they feel engaged and strengthened with the tools for success.
“Welcome to the first evert Centro Hispano virtual strategic update,” said Scott Lopez, Centro Board Chair, to open the event. “We are not experiencing the amazing breakfast made possible every year at this event via Food Fight. We thank them for their many years of support.
“Food Fight and many other small business restaurants continue to offer takeout during the coronavirus pandemic,” he added. “Let’s help support our local friends when possible.”
Lopez thanked Park Bank for their many years of support and presented the video of Centro (below).
A large portion of the Centro Hispano Strategic Update was a question-and-answer session with Menéndez Coller and Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders about “Centro’s Values and the Value of Centro.” Sanders asked Menendez Coller if she’s seen a change in how the greater community has responded to the Latinx community since Menendez Coller has been in Madison, which has been about 7 years now.
“I think that collectively we’ve made great strides. For me, a really special entity in this community that began meeting at Centro four years ago was the Latinx Consortium for Action. There was a lot of trust-building and there continues to be trust-building and understanding each other because It just doesn’t happen in this city – having patience with each other,” Menéndez Coller says. “And I think as an entity, we’ve been able to be a lot more vocal together.
“So, I’ve seen changes in how the voices are being heard and, to me, it’s very important that each of those voices are being heard – my voice, Centro’s voice,” she added. “In the end, we want to be part of the system-wide conversation. I think we have seen obvious progress in the last seven years.”
About a hundred people from the community were in virtual attendance for the event. One community member requested that Menendez Coller talk more specifically about how Centro’s needs today are different than they were three months ago – before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“We’ve gone full virtual, so I’m really proud that our current strategic operational plan really focused creating strong operational capacity,” Menéndez Coller said. “Having a development team that is more than one person so that we can sustain Centro and allow us to grow. We planned for that ahead of time.
“Our needs as an organization are to make sure that our operations are strong,” she added. “As a convener of the community and of this [COVID-19 Relief] fund that we are having … as a player when it comes to the partnerships with the schools, the city and the county, for me it’s very important that Centro remains strong.”
All of the Centro Hispano’s programs continue to move along during the COVID-19 crisis, although now they are done virtually.
“There have been some partners and funders that have been incredibly supportive,” Menéndez Coller said. “As an agency, I’m always wanting to make sure our capacity is strong, so our operational needs are what always keep me up at night – that we have the capacity to always do this work in the community.”
An online attendee asked Menéndez Coller if she had one issue right now that she would ask us to elevate and raise our voices up to the government decision-makers…what would it be?
“Everybody has their own networks and in every single conversation they have I wish they would talk about the growing Latinx community and talk about not only the community here but how we compare to the state and the country,” Menéndez Coller said. “And they should always make sure to mention the needs of our community, especially during times of crisis.
“Right now, our undocumented community is critically impacted. It’s important to be having conversations where you explain the facts about the community and where you share data and why you feel connected to this community and why you feel this community is important to the city, county, and state,” she added. “We need ambassadors who are not going to be fearful of speaking about the needs of a community that is so diverse and so essential for the future of our city and our county.”