Centro Hispano’s annual banquet is not just one of Centro’s favorite events; it’s one of the Madison community’s favorite events with dinner and drinks, speakers and scholarship winners, silent auctions, live music, dancing and more.

The COVID-19 pandemic canceled this year’s Gala for the first time in over 30 years, but for the leadership and staff of the organization, it is giving Centro Hispano a chance to focus on RESILIENCE – its first community-wide appeal.

“It was really hard. We actually waited until the very last minute when we had to decide. For us, this is an event that is so comforting that we all look forward to – it’s a space where you can take a breath and just be with so many people. It was a tough decision but when things just kept getting worse, we decided to flip it a little bit,” Karen Menéndez Coller, the executive director of Centro Hispano of Dane County, tells Madison365. “Sure, we can’t gather in person, but what can we do to create a sense of community?”

Out of the sad news of the cancellation of their beloved event emerged the RESILIENCE campaign., a fundraising opportunity for Centro Hispano who has always relied upon the Annual Gala to raise funds for their programs. RESILIENCE will enable the agency to act to alleviate the multi-level impact of the COVID-19 virus and to support its families in need by standing with them during this time of crisis and recovery.

A photo from Centro Hispano’s 2018 annual Gala

“For me, it gives me so much hope and a sense of strength to see people standing up with Centro after the amazing amount of turmoil our community continues to face this year,” Menéndez Coller says. 

Centro Hispano is using the hashtag #Resilience for this social media campaign with the goal of “supporting our families and uplifting the voices in our community.”   

“It’s the first time we’ve done something like this in trying to engage people in this conversation of resilience. I am really yearning for communities of color to take charge – whatever happens after this pandemic,” Menéndez Coller says. “That sense of resilience that we have and making sure that we bottle it up and the was always feel it at Centro.

“I think that Centro is for the Latino community and the immigrant community, but it is also for greater Dane County and all of the feelings that we’ve been having and thoughts about how we’re going to overcome all this … I want to make sure that that gets captured in the space, and the future of the organization and what we want to do next,” she adds. “So I’ve been enjoying reading posts that people have been tagging and sharing some stories around Centro, but also about what makes each of us resilient as human beings, especially at a time when so much of our human dignity is being attacked by leadership that doesn’t understand multiple pandemics that our communities of color are facing.” 

The pandemic has hit the Latinx population, suffering a disproportionate number of coronavirus cases and deaths, hard across the United States including in Madison. In Wisconsin, Latinx represents 7% of the population but almost 30% of infections from the virus and 15% of deaths. Centro Hispano has been at the forefront of the local response to the pandemic for the Latino community.

“Every year, we’ve been making sure that we are stronger [at Centro]. Every year we’ve been building on what we’ve been doing the year before because things have been so unstable and there is so much growth in our community and there are so many needs,” says Menéndez Coller. “Thankfully, we’ve set some things in place operationally that have allowed us to weather this pandemic. 

Centro Hispano’s Juventud Program provides academic support, parent engagement, and leadership development to middle school-aged Latino and Spanish speaking youth and their families.

Latinos are the fastest-growing community in Dane County. “There are 34,000 Latinos and school systems, government, etc. are all trying to catch up and understand our community,” Menéndez Coller says. “Centro has been there along the way through that journey to make sure that we are participating in the dialog so our community gets supported. We have a lot on our plate during regular times already, but with the coronavirus pandemic, our concerns have tripled with basic needs, mental health, employment, wraparound support, technological and educational support that our families need. Everything has just intensified.”

Menéndez Coller notes that 80 percent of Centro’s staff were once volunteers or clients seeking services at Centro.

“They are now working here. We really focused on growing our own,” she says. “I think, for us, diversity is not something that needs to be created … it’s woven into the fabric of what we are as an agency. We are doing social justice/mission-driven work … there’s not time to try to understand it, you just have to get it and really do it well.”

The goal of the RESILIENCE campaign is to fill “a virtual room” – raising $50,000, (the equivalent of selling 500 tickets to annual Gala) by October 31st.

“The campaign is going great. Our goal is to hit $50,000 because then UW Health is going to match it dollar for dollar so we stand to get $100,000. I believe we are at $34,000 right now. We’re trying to do our final push,” Menéndez Coller says.

“I’m really proud of the hard work that people are doing on this and I’m really proud to be in this community when so many changes are happening. I think it’s about time.”


You can help support Centro’s RESILIENCE campaign by clicking here. The campaign ends at the end of October.