The Latinx community is the largest and fastest-growing group in the city, county, and the state. Centro Hispano of Dane County is the largest non-profit provider in Dane County supporting the Latinx community, and its current building on Badger Road is no longer able to keep up with the pace of the needs of that growing Latinx community. With that in mind at the Centro Hispano annual Strategic Update Breakfast on April 26, there was a certain excitement about #CampaignCentro and the current construction of the $20 million building that will serve as Centro’s new headquarters.
“Our real vision centers longtime residents that are Latinx, young adults, asylum-seeking families, so all of them can feel supported … where we’re not really challenged by those barriers to opportunities but we’re creative about what we want to become,” Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano of Dane County, told a large crowd gathered for coffee and breakfast in the Centro lobby. “We’re going to be present in this space and we’re gonna be a lot more vocal. So as the organization continues to thrive from the bottom up, my promise to you is that belonging is going to continue to be the heartbeat of our community, our volunteers, our staff and our board.”
The South Side of Madison, where Centro Hispano is located, has the highest concentration of low-income Latino families in the city, according to information made available at the breakfast, and the new building, which is being constructed right down the street on the corner of Cypress Way and Hughes Place, will be a game-changer. If all goes well, it is expected to open in early 2024.
“My hope is that this is a place where you come to learn and grow and you understand how you can also heal and how you can let your walls down so we can be vulnerable with each other,” Menéndez Coller says. “Because real change requires that and that’s what’s important.”
The Centro Hispano Annual Strategic Update has been a tradition at Centro for a decade. At the event, Centro’s board of directors and leadership provide an update on the agency’s work in the community to Centro’s closest friends and supporters. It’s an opportunity to provide input, engage in candid conversation, and strategize toward the future. At last year’s Strategic Update, Centro officially announced it would be building its new headquarters in the heart of Madison’s South Side and embarking on a campaign #CampaignCentro, to raise money.
“Over the years, we’ve grown tremendously at Centro. We have been there at the forefront of trying to engage with the community and support the needs of the community with the types of resources that are needed. But I think that for me, what keeps me coming back to Centro — and what drove me here in the first place — is the space,” said Menéndez Coller, who was born and raised in El Salvador before moving to the Los Angeles area at age 13. “So this is a space where we do things right — all those resources, all those strategies, all those things that we engage in conversation about. We create a sense of belonging. We create a sense of community and we center our imagination, always on what is possible, not the limitations that are placed in front of us for our community, the Latinx community. We really try to imagine what’s possible.
“Our goal should always be to foster a shift in the mindset for what is possible for the Latinx community in schools and work and in life. Because when we do that, that’s when we have a thriving community.”
This year, Centro Hispano is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The non-profit was founded in 1983 by community volunteers to meet the emergent needs of Cuban refugees, and the agency now serves 7,000 individuals (3,000 families) a year with holistic multi-generational programming.
Various Centro Hispano board of directors members spoke at the Strategic Update Breakfast including Suzanne Johnson, a vice president at Park Bank, who told the crowd she’s “always been a big admirer of the work that Centro Hispano has done.”
“For me, you come to an event like this and you get really excited because a building is going up — which I’m very excited about — but to have the opportunity to see how much heart, passion, detail, the community impact, and the direction in which things are going and how much goes on behind the scenes … it’s substantial,” Johnson said.
“I’m very fortunate to be a part of Centro and I’m very excited about the building as I reflect. To know that we’re witnessing history, and everybody in this room is not only witnessing history, but we’re contributing to it … is huge,” she added. “So just kind of taking a step back and thinking over 40 years and the impact that Centro Hispano has had is absolutely just incredible. So I’m very humbled and grateful.”
Menéndez Coller said she would like to make housing and homeownership a priority in the future as Centro transitions to its new building.
“Our future strategy at Centro is going to continue to center belonging, community, and imagination,” she said. “In the future, our new building will create more spaces of belonging for our kids. Yes, they will need internships. Yes, they need work… yes, they need all those things. But in the end, they’re kids; they’re not going to have a perfect journey. None of us did. And we need to have a space where they can be joyful and that can be celebrated.
“For our agency partners and our workforce partners, we are so grateful to you,” she added. “These are organizations that are doubling down on the efforts that we do here at Centro that are trusting and giving to this organization because they believe in our future. Each of you is courageous in your commitment to change the face of what so many important sectors look like … spaces where we need to be present.”