Centro Hispano hosts a variety of events and activities throughout the year, but their most famous event – the 29th Annual Celebration Gala – will be held at the Park Hotel in downtown Madison on Friday, Sept. 28 and will be a chance to honor outstanding community members, many of them unsung heroes, who have impacted Centro and the greater community.
“It’s a great time to come together and celebrate as a community. I feel like a sense of relief when we are all at the event because everybody gets to let go all of the stress they’ve been carrying and just be with one another,” Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menéndez Coller tells Madison365. “For me, I think of Centro as the hub for issues around the Latino community and a space that anybody can take as their own. The Gala amplifies that and it’s just everybody that is involved and engaged and supporting Centro coming out and having a big celebration.”
This year, there will be a separate scholarship luncheon to honor the Centro scholarship recipients on Nov. 10 at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery that will be focused on the students and the families.
“This upcoming Gala will be very much a community celebration. We will be focused on the award winners and the actions they have taken to advance our community,” Menendez Coller says. “It’s just a very inspiring event.”
The big award that will be presented at the event is the Ilda C. Thomas Award, named after Centro’s founder, which is awarded to a community member who ensures a strong Latino community voice. This year, this award will be given to Gilma Arenas who has been deeply involved with Latino youth and families over more than 40 years, including more than a decade at Centro as a Juventud Youth Program Coordinator for Sherman Middle School.
“Gilma has always been working behind the scenes which is what this award represents,” Menéndez Coller says. “She does amazing work with those kids at Sherman [Middle School] and has done great work with families for a long time. She is just really committed to parents and kids.
“The cool thing about her is that she just gets it naturally,” she adds.
The event will also be a chance to award the Roberto G. Sanchez Award that honors an individual that has demonstrated leadership in advancing educational and career opportunities for Latinos in Dane County. This year’s award will be given to Silvia Gomez de Soriano, a bilingual resource specialist for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), who has been dedicated to advancing the dreams of Latino students in Madison.
“Silvia is another one of those great people in our community. She’s always been a mentor to young people in a very organic way but I feel like even moreso now,” Menéndez Coller says. “She’s not one to brag about her impact, but I know she’s had a big impact on the young people in our community. I think it’s encouraging when you see somebody in the school district like her supporting the young people. I think her voice carries a lot of weight and she is just very action-orientated.”
This will be a very special Centro Hispano Gala this year as they will present the annual Marcus S. Miles Volunteer Award in honor of community photographer Marcus Miles, who passed away one year ago this month, to a volunteer who significantly helped to advance Centro’s goals and mission through their talents and expertise.
“It’s very hard for me to talk about Marcus, but since I’ve been here he’s been one of our own,” Menéndez Coller says. “He was so dedicated to what Centro was all about. He always knew how to capture the heart of Centro with pictures in a way that is hard to replicate. He really understood the soul of the agency and had such humility himself. He was always so kind and so supportive. He was willing to do anything, and to share his expertise.”
When Centro created the award, they wanted to find somebody like Miles, who was very talented and very selfless in how they shared it. This year’s awardee will be Rosemary U’Ren, human resources advisor director at American Family Insurance, and founding chair of the Beca (Scholarship) Committee at Centro.
“Rosemary is so committed to scholarships and the future or our youth. She is the chair of our scholarship committee and has been so dedicated. She always comes through,” Menéndez Coller says.
Also at the Centro Gala, Julissa Ventura will be presented with the new Young Dreamer Award which will be given annually to a young Latinx who has completed their education and reached their goals and dreams, while contributing significantly to the community and serving as an example to others. Ventura recently completed her Ph.D. in education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while serving as a mentor to youth in the [Re]Generacion Program at Centro, and substantially contributing to youth development in the city.
The Centro Visionary Award, given to a person who consistently strives for Centro’s greater vision of a thriving Latino community in Dane County and who is deeply committed to the agency’s role in helping to advance this vision across multiple sectors, will be presented to Shiva Bidar, Chief Diversity Officer at UW Health, whose dedication to Centro’s mission, and work at leveraging support for the agency as well as for the Latino and immigrant community has been invaluable.
One of Madison’s favorites, Grupo Candela, will keep the Gala attendees dancing all night long and there will be plenty of raffle prizes and a Wine and Tequila Pull where $20 could get you a magnum of Caymus or a bottle of Tequila worth more than $200.
“It’s just a really fun event,” Menendez Coller says. “I love the community aspect of this event. We are so loud and we have so much fun. I sometimes hate how much we have to fight to be heard and at this event it just feels like we’re right where we need to be. It feels just right.”
Centro Hispano’s 29th Annual Celebration – The Gala will be held Friday, Sept. 28, 6 p.m. at The Park Hotel, 22 S. Carroll St.