The board of directors for the Vera Court Neighborhood Center has announced the hiring of Baltazar De Anda Santana as the Latino Academy of Workforce Development’s new executive director, who was one of the co-founders of the organization back in 2011.
“I am very excited about this opportunity to be back at the Latino Academy,” De Anda Santana tells Madison365. “I wanted to come back to a place where I could make more impact in our Latino community. There’s still so much more we need to do to make sure that we continue elevating our Latino community and we continue to provide the tools that are needed. Our Latino community has so much potential. I am eager to partner with students, volunteers, staff, funders, and local organizations to move the Latino Academy forward.”
De Anda-Santana was instrumental in helping the Latino Academy grow from 2011-2016. In 2016, he left the Academy to become the director of Community and Volunteer Engagement at the United Way of Dane County. Most recently, De Anda Santana has been working with the Wisconsin Bike Federation as an ambassador for Share and Be Aware program where he says he had an enjoyable time and it was a great opportunity working to take care of the recreational needs of the community and getting Latinos out onto Madison’s bike paths.
“It was a very nice and comfortable job, but at the end of the day, I didn’t feel like I was working with the community,” De Anda Santana says. “I was born in the community and I wanted to continue to be part of the community. With my job at the Wisconsin Bike Fed., I felt like a tourist when I came to the community centers because I wasn’t really part of it. That’s what I really missed. That’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to being back with the Latino Academy.”
The Latino Academy of Workforce Development was born from the Latino Family Resource Center program at Vera Court out of a tremendous need for Spanish-language vocational training and employment services throughout the Madison and Dane County communities. The primary goal of the agency has been to create a safe, culturally competent space that empowers Latino adults to succeed and integrate into the local economic and educational systems.
De Anda Santana says that he is excited to continue working with Norma Gallegos, Latino Academy’s director of programs, and Monica Coldwell, Latino Academy’s training coordinator.
“It was very important for me to come back and to have team members such as Norma and Monica. They have done a tremendous job strengthening the Latino Academy,” De Anda Santana says. “For me, that was important to be working with people who understood the Latino Academy and who understood the Latino community. Monica and Norma really do.”
The Latino Academy’s goal is to become the largest nonprofit in Dane County that provides employment, education, and training to Madison’s thriving Latino community.
“This is going to take time and we want to be sure we do things right,” De Anda Santana says. “We want to make sure that we involved the Latino community and all of our partners – Centro Hispano, the Latino Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Professionals Association. This is something we do not want to do alone; this will be a community effort.’
The Vera Court Board has created this new leadership position with the goal of evaluating opportunities for growth that are aligned with the Latino Academy’s strategic plan. Specifically, Latino Academy aims to gain greater independence from the Vera Court agency resulting in a separate Latino nonprofit entity in the near future.
“The Latino Academy has been part of the Vera Court Neighborhood Center. I think this is a window of opportunity to work towards independence,” De Anda-Santana says.
The Latino Academy growth over the years has resulted in hundreds of members of the community gaining job skills and employment opportunities. De Anda-Santana says that he is excited about the opportunity to do even more.
“I have a hard work ethic and I love my community; I love Madison … but it’s going to take a community effort to help achieve some of these goals,” he says. “This is a project not for Vera Court, not for Baltazar … this is a community project.
“My job is to push and sometimes fight to make sure that we provide the tools the Latino community needs so they can continue thriving,” he adds.