Maria Paula Lujum has always been interested in being a part of the change she wants to see in the world.
“Professional development and growth have always been part of who I am, of my DNA, my cultural DNA,” she tells Madison365. “And therefore, I’ve always tried to align my core values with everything that I do. And that includes professional opportunities.”
This notion of aligning one’s values with their work has allowed Lujum to find her way into the Centro Hispano community.
“I was really passionate to just be part of the change,” said Lujum. “And that’s how I just decided to apply and to become part of a family.”
Lujum began her position at Centro Hispano in September of 2019. Now, as a member of that family as the Youth Programs Manager, she oversees the youth programs at Centro Hispano. She, with her colleagues and constituents, work in partnership with the Dane County school district to provide quality youth programs for Latino youth in the area.
“My main goal is to make sure that we are making sure that Dane County continues to be a place where Latinos can thrive and can attain other goals and to continue to support the youth as they navigate high school, college, and middle school,” Lujum says.
Lujum pointed out that the work she and others at Centro are doing has real, tangible results in the community.
“Something that happened this year, as the team was growing, we [now] have three facilitators [who] started their journey with Centro in Juventud, which is the middle school program when they were 12 years old,” Lujum says. “And they participated in the internship, and now they are facilitators, and so just seeing them grow, and now even some of them are now in college, and some others have already graduated or continued their education.
“So those are some of the examples that I would say, to me, [where you can see] the impact that you can feel the program has. It’s just real stories and real people that are living their dreams and doing what they want, even if it’s within Centro, or even if they decide to pursue other careers outside of Madison.”
However, Lujum’s work has gotten significantly more difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The past seven to eight months has definitely impacted Latinx youth in the community in many ways,” Lujum noted.
“Students are holistic. They are not just the students but they’re part of a family or a community. So they’re all experiencing [the pandemic] in different ways,” she continues. “And some of the ways that I would say that I’ve seen that the youth have been affected are in some buckets. Their financial bucket, in terms of like housing, rent, affordability. Socially, a lot of mental health, affordability, access to services, economic mobility in terms of unemployment.”
Lujum also noted that, as a family, Centro is working to not only support their youth during these times but their staff as well.
“One of the things that was really important for us at Centro, and also the youth team, was to make sure that we were a healthy organization, from the inside out. So it is important to make sure that the staff felt supported, not just did what they needed to work, but also, internally, trying to understand everything that was happening.”
Despite the constraints that the pandemic has forced upon Centro and its staff, Paula explained that she feels tremendous joy knowing that her work is making an impact on the community. “I’m just really thankful to be part of Centro,” Lujum said. “It’s a really special place.
“We need to be part of the change that we want to see. Ultimately, we are the community that we serve.”