The Latino Academy of Workforce Development has a new headquarters at the Landmark Place on Madison’s South Side that is providing a comfortable, professional space for its many students to call home.
“When the students come in they say, ‘This is muy cómodo…. This is very comfortable. We really love it here.’ I love to hear it,” Baltazar De Anda Santana, co-founder and executive director of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, tells Madison365. “But for us, this is just the beginning. We need to always keep pushing ourselves and start thinking about what else we can do to make sure that our students feel dignified, respected and cared for. We’re not done yet. But this is a great step forward.”
Since 2011, the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, an organization that was once within the nonprofit agency Vera Court Neighborhood Center, Inc., has created a welcoming space that understands and respects the tremendous challenges of the immigrant life experience as it provides education, workforce training and job placement for a growing Latino community and other underrepresented populations. Last year, the organization became Wisconsin’s newest Latino-led independent nonprofit organization.
“We have a place downtown and then we are at Bridge Lakepoint Center, but we’ve been looking for a place where our students can feel comfortable when there was an opportunity for students to come in and learn,” De Anda Santana says.
“When we invited them to take classes where we were before, they were very excited, but at the same time, they wanted to have their own place… a space they can call home. I think this is what I wanted to be able to bring to the students … the opportunity for them to have a place where they can go and they can have a quiet space where they can study — if they needed to take an exam, they can then just take an exam.
“And now if we need to have a training, we no longer have to cram 100 people into one room that only holds 20 people.”
That will no longer be a problem in the new space which has six offices, a conference room, and access to three spacious training rooms where students can work towards earning diplomas and certifications. The place is also conveniently located just off the Beltline, near a bus stop and has a big parking lot for commuting students.
“I love greeting the students when they come because it’s so comfortable and spacious. And that’s what we wanted,” De Anda Santana says. “Our students deserve this, but they deserve even more than this. Right now, this is where we are and we can provide them with that opportunity for them to have a classroom where they can learn and a place where they can meet with tutors and work on their projects. I love that we have access to three large training rooms and there is plenty of parking lot.”
De Anda Santana says that he and his team looked at nine different places before deciding that The Landmark would be their new home.
“This is the one that that we decided on as a team,” he says. “And I remember when I came in and I saw that room [that would be my office], I cried a little bit inside because when Latino Academy was first created, I didn’t even have an office,” he says. “I’m still having issues using my own office because I have never had an office before.
“I remember when I first came to this country – and I think my story is very similar to many students here – I stayed with the aunt, and I stayed with the cousin and I stayed with a friend,” De Anda Santana adds. “But the best thing is when we have our own space where we can just sit down and relax and be ourselves. And I think we have now arrived with this new space.”
The Latino Academy is on a five-year lease at the new building, De Anda Santana says, but they would love to purchase their own building in the future. “For now, this is amazing. But one day, we would love to have our own place. Right now, we are one year old as an independent organization and we are in the process of growing and in the process of continuing to support our students and this space suits us really well.”
The Latino Academy of Workforce Development will host an open house to show off its new building on Wednesday, April 12, 4-7 p.m.
“It’s open to the whole community. We want to make sure that folks know that this Landmark Place building is a landmark for the community, as well,” De Anda Santana says. “We are so excited. This is our home. We want to make sure that our partners, our employers, and our community members feel that this is also the home where they can come in and meet the students. And we’re going to be taking advantage of this building, too. We’re going to host a number of career fairs and a number of activities here, as well.”