Home Madison “My heart has healed.” Centro Hispano celebrates grand opening of new home

“My heart has healed.” Centro Hispano celebrates grand opening of new home


Hundreds of people came to Madison’s south side on Friday to celebrate the opening of the new home of Centro Hispano, Dane County’s largest community center and service agency for the Latino community.

The new 25,000-square-foot location on Cypress Way will allow the organization to serve thousands more members of one of the fastest-growing communities in the area.

The opening was the culmination of years of planning, fundraising and work by executive director Karen Menendez Coller as well as the Centro Hispano staff and board of directors.

Former board chair Gloria Reyes recalled the early conversations about building a new home for the organization years ago, and the hiring of Karen Menendez Coller as executive director to get it done.

“It wasn’t easy for us back then to convince people to invest in our community,” Reyes said.  

The organization has overcome that obstacle, though, raising nearly $20 million in federal, state, county and city grants, as well as corporate philanthropy and individual donations.

“When Karen gave me a tour of the old building, I knew darn well that this building would happen,” Governor Tony Evers said at the opening.

“What Centro does for us is it adheres to the directive to be the change you want to see,” said County Executive Joe Parisi. “It shows us that if we live the life that we want the entire world to live, that change will happen. All you have to do is picture our community if Centro wasn’t here. And that gives us a stark picture of the difference that they do make.”

Reyes said Centro impacted her life directly, long before she joined the organization’s board.

“I received a scholarship from Centro to go to college.  It was more than just the scholarship. It was the community saying, ‘you can do it,’” said Reyes, a former police officer, deputy mayor, nonprofit CEO and mayoral candidate. “I’m just a great example of what can happen when we invest in young people, invest in our Latino community.”

“Coming here as an immigrant over 20 years ago, Centro was the one place that I walked in and it felt like home. I always felt welcome here,” said Sujhey Beisser, another former board member.

The new space includes Centro’s offices, a children’s area, a state-of-the-art kitchen, coworking space, a podcast studio and community meeting spaces, as well as an outdoor plaza. Many architectural elements reflect Central and South American cultures.

Dr. Ida Balderrama-Trudell, who came to Madison for graduate school in 1999, recalls when Centro was headquartered in a small house near campus. 

“To see the evolution of the spaces, you know, from that little house, to the (previous) space around the corner, to this … what our community deserves is just powerful,” she said. “You can tell that (the new space) was created with and for the community. It feels collaborative. I love all of the elements related to nature … it feels like you’re outside in the neighborhood. The fact that it has a kitchen, a cocina, on the first floor is amazing to me. Being Latina and always wanting to feed people, such an important element to culture. Having a space that feels integrally connected to the community, and that the community feels like they can find easily, get to accessibly off the bus line in the heart of a place that is racially and ethnically diverse is all incredibly important.”

“It was really warm,” Menendez-Coller said of the turnout and support from the community for the opening. “It felt like we opened up the space, not just the building, but the energies. We asked for everybody to come here and bring courageous, creative joy and happiness into this building … This feels healing to me. I really feel that my heart has healed.”

She said the new building represents more than just an office or community center.

“We’re in a moment of a power shift, I think,” she said. “Communities of color have power, and we don’t need to have others validate us all the time.”

She said it’s not lost on her that the new home of Centro Hispano is opening just as other major developments are happening in the neighborhood – namely, the new Madison College south campus, the Black Business Hub and the Center for Black Excellence and Culture.

“We’re doing it together,” Menendez-Coller said. “And then we’re transforming things on our terms and … we’re just going to stop listening to what others say we can do and just break it apart and rebuild it ourselves.”