When Nina Gehan took over as the development director of Centro Hispano of Dane County earlier this year, she brought her passion for fundraising and development, capacity building, and communication. With her relentless dedication to Centro Hispano, Gehan and Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller have helped to make Centro Hispano a place that has improved the quality of lives of Latinos and others living in Dane County through high-quality programming and services.
Gehan says that a lot of the work she does at Centro is behind the scenes.
“A lot of my work is around fundraising but it’s also in communication, project management and capacity building,” Gehan tells Madison365.
Through a variety of programs, Centro Hispano is a hub of activity and a place for the future emerging Latino leaders of the world. The agency’s impact is not solely limited to Madison but the entire Dane County community. Gehan makes this possible through streamlining procedures, centralizing communication, building strategic partnerships with funders and partners. Her job is to secure the future growth of Centro year after year.
“I work on establishing and managing a system for resources (financial and collaboration) for Centro and I am responsible for creating the annual fundraising plan and making sure we meet the goals we set forth in it,” Gehan says. “I have been working in development for 6 years, but this position is truly inspiring because Centro has never actually had a development director before. It’s exciting that people and corporations in our community are able to see the amazing things Centro has been doing under Karen’s leadership and understand the value of adding my position to sustain this growth over the years.”
Gehan was born in France but later moved to China when she was 12 months old. From there, Gehan moved every 2-3 years until she finally called Madison home in 2007. With her vast knowledge of cultures, traveling, and diverse experiences, Gehan would best be described as a binational, bilingual, and a bicultural woman. Her father is a retired French diplomat and her mother is an artist and herbalist from Door County. As a current Madison resident, Gehan is currently busy raising her children ages 2 and 5, and her step-son who is 7.
Prior to being hired by Centro, Gehan was development director for the Lussier Community Education Center. What does it mean to be development director for Centro Hispano?
“I’m pretty sure that there aren’t many people who think they were meant to be a development director or fundraiser. In fact, before becoming one in 2012, I didn’t even know what a development director was,” Gehan says. “Because my father was a French diplomat, I grew up moving every couple of years. This gave me both a tremendous respect and curiosity for others, but it also left me networkless wherever I was. Because of this, I learned how to make friends fast, how to get as much out of an experience as I could, and how to value the exposure I had and share it with others.”
Working with an immigrant population and being a child of an immigrant herself, Gehan knows that there are a lot of experiences that immigrant children face that create a sense of humility within themselves and that watching an immigrant parent work day in and out is a silent pride.
“My parents were also very humble people — my father a first-generation college grad from a single-mother family in a small rural town in France and my mother, an artist and herbalist from Green Bay,” Gehan explains. “Because of this, I have always had a tremendous respect for others no matter what their background, and a desire to make the dreams my parents had for me a reality for many others.”
Many of Gehan’s skills were developed as a child and young adult that later impacted her work as an adult. Gehan’s background in journalism and sociology has contributed to her passion for understanding people, the choices they make, and the societies in which they live, and then taking that information and sharing it.
Gehan has had experiences as a consultant, a communications specialist at UW-Madison’s College of Engineering, and as a French instructor. Gehan has always had a way with development and planning.
“I would say now that, in a sense, yes, development is what I was meant to do. It enables me to use my greatest skills: my love of people, my desire to help society, and my hustle to make a tangible difference for something I truly believe in,” she says. “I love to design plans, establish goals, map the way, and work as a team to reach those goals and this is truly what development is in the purest sense. No day is the same: you are always finding new ways to enhance what you are doing, you get to meet some of the most interesting and important people and tell them about what you care about most. It’s constantly challenging and you are always learning.”
The driving force behind a lot of Gehan’s work is the need to learn and inform. She expands on where she gets most of her ideas.
“Most of my ideas and inspiration come from listening to other people,” Gehan says. “And from reading news, articles, blogs opinions, research articles. The more I read and listen, the more I am inspired!”
It’s important to know, she adds, what or who may inspire you.
“Working for a cause that I can get behind is what truly inspires me and feeling like I can make a difference. Also, working for inspiring leadership, someone I can learn from and grow with,” she says. “It inspires me when I see the real differences that are possible because of the resources that we gather …to see people get excited about a mission or message and what it can do to change our community. When you can see the actual effect of your work on others, it is always inspiring!”
As development director for a major agency like Centro Hispano, Gehan does not get much free time. Where is her favorite place to think? “Probably the shower or anywhere or time I can be alone,” Gehan smiles. “Oftentimes, when I take a long walk or a run. It gives me time to process what I hear, learn and do in the day. I don’t get enough of those moments, though, with three children (2, 5, and 7) at home.”
Centro Hispano is an established organization that has changed the lives of many immigrant and Latino families here in Dane County for over three decades. Gehan talks about why she has invested so much of herself in Centro.
“Centro is important to Latinos in our community, but also to all the south side residents. It’s a place where you can find support, encouragement, and the programs and services you need to grow and follow your dreams,” she says. “Centro is really making a difference in a way that I have not seen many organizations do. The outcomes of the programs are concrete and measurable and the services offered are like no other. As a fundraiser, this makes my job easy and clear and that is not always the case in Madison’s non-profits.”
Centro Hispano has positively affected the community in so many ways and Gehan loves to be a part of it. She encourages community members to come by and check it out themselves. “Come by on a Friday night and you can see it – ladies with their children doing Zumba in the back parking lot, a party in one of the back rooms for students from [Madison] West and East [High Schools], a graduation ceremony in the plaza where they are graduating 10 new CNAs,” Gehan says. “Centro also provides a voice for the voiceless, and has a fearless, humble, and intelligent leader who is willing to speak out on behalf of the community Centro represents. It’s hard not to see how Centro has affected the community because its rays spread across Madison and into Dane County.”