Centro Hispano is a community based non-profit organization that exists to empower the Hispanic and Latino community in Dane County.
“Centro Hispano’s primary focus is to help the Latino community and so therefore, it primarily serves Latinos, but it has evolved and I’m sure that whoever walks in the door will get help,” says Dora Zúñiga, who was the executive director of Centro Hispano from 1991 to 1997. Centro Hispano helps give youth real alternatives and resources to provide themselves with a brighter future. Their goal is to see Latino youth prepared to succeed in their future by finishing high school, being prepared for post-secondary education and engaging positively in their communities.
Centro Hispano doesn’t only help the youth succeed in their life through various programs but it also helps the family as well with services to provide the families with the basic support and resources they need to address a variety of issues affecting their everyday lives such as fraud, unemployment, legal issues, healthcare and much more.
“The challenges that Centro Hispano faces today is that first of all, there is the national issues that are happening around immigration and then there is the need for equity in employment, and equity in educational access,”Zúñiga says. So many of our young people are not fully taking advantage of their education. Our school system is not providing adequate and meaningful educational opportunities for our students that they can take advantage of. Those are, I think, some of the really big issues that Centro Hispano and the Latino community are facing.”
Zúñiga’s leadership of Centro, and ongoing commitment to community organizations, comes from her upbringing.
“Both my parents were immigrants who came to the United States from Mexico and they worked extremely hard and yet they, they provided a wonderful life for us, but they were always struggling,”she says. “And they always encouraged us to do our absolute best in school because they knew that if we did well in school, we would have a very different life than what they had been able to have. And so my parents inspired me everyday because they worked twice as hard as everybody else to have just a little piece of the American Pie and so that work ethic and seeing how difficult life was for them, and following their leadership and their insistence that we get an education and once we got that education and once we were doing well, it was our obligation to help others.”
Zúñiga was also the chief executive officer of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Dane County which helped children in their program reach their full potential. Their goal is for everyone in their program to break the cycle of poverty.
“It was a fantastic time in my life because I got to see the partnership of volunteers, the impact of volunteer mentor could help a kid who might be first generation graduating from high school and so forth and the power that mentorship and that relationship of somebody outside of your family has provided lots of opportunities for young people be successful, to go on to go to college, to land really great jobs, and to acquire another person that’s an extended member of their family” says Zúñiga.
The Big Brother Big Sister program was and still is very successful, Zúñiga says.
“The kids who were mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters have a higher percentage rate of graduating from college than the kids from similar circumstances graduating from college and going off to college” Zúñiga says. This was a very necessary program because the kids needed the extra love and support because most of their parents were working like crazy or parents couldn’t really provide that extra support needed for their kids. And Big Brothers Big Sisters need mentors more than ever, Zúñiga says,
“It’s critical and very important that adults that care about kids, who care about the community say, ‘Yes, I will become a mentor.’ don’t expect somebody else to do it,” says Zúñiga.
Dora Zúñiga continued her involvement in the community as founder of Inspira Consulting and Development Director for Wisconsin Public Radio.
She now lives and spends sunny days in Tampa Florida. She was sad to leave Madison but is excited to watch Madison grow in a distance; she just wanted to start a new life in retirement and enjoy every second of it.
Dora hopes that the youth understands the importance of education and how it can lead to big success and hopes that the youth can reach their full potential so they have a better future.