Dealing with Virtual Reality and
Immediate Needs
Karen Menendez Coller, CEO of Centro Hispano (c) with Norma
Gallegos Valles, workforce and career pathways manager (l) and
Celsa Rodriguez, community social work manager (r)
lot of the young people who are involved at Centro. I think we are going to try to use our Facebook site at least as a good place for community engagement, which is
an important part of our mission and what our community really stands for and how it thrives. We’re just in a lot of different spaces and connecting all the time
virtually. It’s a little bit hard, but I think it is also a good way to reflect on things we should probably be implementing now if something like this should ever happen
again. That’s the silver lining.”

It is during times like this that the trust levels between mainstream institutions and underrepresented communities — or lack of it — are exposed. And so a heavy
responsibility falls on the non-profits to insure those communities are served.

“When emergencies like this happen, safety-net organizations like Centro and other agencies in the city are doing work, but also some things need to happen at the
government as well,” Coller said. “When this happens, it always reminds me that non-profits are doing this work. But why is the work so heavy on the non-profit
end? And I think some resources need to be put in place so that our community, regardless of immigration status, is supported through it and plans are in place for
that. It’s an eye-opener when not enough engagement is done with diverse communities in the city. And so, when things happen, people turn to the non-profit, go-to
organizations. But they should also feel comfortable going everywhere in the city. And that is always a concern.”

On some levels, Centro Hispano’s role in the community has become more life and death. The pandemic interventions from many different sources come with their
own guidelines and targets. Due to ideological considerations, for example, federal aid and fiscal stimuli do not include undocumented residents.

“The relief that was passed by the federal government will not reach undocumented communities,” Coller emphasized. “And it is really blatantly put that way where
you are not eligible for these funds if you don’t have a Social Security number even though our community, by and large, comes to this country because they look to
become a citizen. You don’t uproot your whole sense of self from a place where you were born to come to another place unless you have the ambition and the drive
to try be a citizen of that country. It’s a big decision. A lot of our community pays taxes and they do it with an ITIN number because when you apply for citizenship
status, all of those things are factored in. You always follow the rules. My parents always told me that. When we were going through this process ourselves because
in the end, it matters. And so for these policies to come into play during a time of crisis and you are excluded even though you are trying to do your best to become a
part of this country, it makes no sense. You may even have a Social Security number, but if your partner doesn’t have one and may have filed using an ITIN number,
you may be ineligible for these funds too. It’s a very specific attempt to try to separate a group from this country who desperately want to contribute to it and be a part
of it. And that is the part that is really unfortunate.”

For the moment, it is up to the community to band together to insure that everyone receives services and are able to weather the pandemic.

“What we do is we come together as a community and we say, ‘We have to at least be hopeful and be resilient and figure out a way that we can support one
another,’” Coller said. “That is what the fund is about. It’s about trying to build some equity in how we support our community, leveraging our trust and our
understanding of their need so that they too can make it okay out of this and make it to the other side of this. It’s affecting everyone, but specifically the
undocumented workforce that is so vital for the services you see here in the county.”

A major force in the Latino community is the Latino Consortium for Action, a group of Latinos who head area organizations who keep each other informed and make
sure that gaps in service to the Latino community and beyond do not materialize and grow. The LCA felt called to action in order to ease the suffering that
undocumented families were experiencing and developed a fund.

“The government is going to do their part, but there isn’t enough of an understanding about what the needs are, so their part is going to be limited,” Coller said.
“Philanthropy has to do their part. And I think the non-profit sector has to do its part too. When the Boys & Girls Club fund was announced and the United Way support
was announced, we were excited because we could see how those are going to benefit the community. And then we thought, ‘Well what can we do?’ And I think
everyone should be thinking this way. What can you do to build a pot for this whole city and this whole county? The needs are going to be great. And so we turn to
what we know best, which is the community that is isolated, the undocumented community, and we knew that they were going to struggle the worst. We thought, ‘Let’
s put all of our efforts into that and let’s see what we can raise to make sure that they are safe and are helped out through this whole thing. At the same time, the
United Way, Boys & Girls Club and other funding efforts are going on. We all need to do something. That was the point. When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, we all
came together. We talk frequently. We’ve decided to build something together that can support our community. But I sure hope that everyone out there is thinking
about what they are going to do because the financial needs are going to be really great.”
By Jonathan Gramling

The people drawn to non-profit human service agencies come to them with the spirit of
service and a deep concern for people. They are often times the bridge between
underrepresented communities and the mainstream institutions and services. In a
sometimes uncertain world, they have earned the trust and respect of those they serve and
are able to reach them even under the direst of circumstances.

Central to many a Latin American community is the plaza, a public place where people gather
to buy and sell food and goods and to celebrate. In Madison, Centro Hispano has become that
plaza for many people. And so while COVID-19 has shuttered many places of business,
Centro has basically converted into a virtual plaza.

“We’re still doing the work that we do,” said Karen Menendez Coller, Centro Hispano’s CEO.
“We’re just doing it virtually or over the phone using whatever kind of mechanism that we
can. Everyone is still available. We’re trying to coordinate with other youth organizations in
the city to figure out a way to still do youth programming even if it is through social media or
whatever that would be. Those plans are still in the works. But I know that our coordinators
are still in touch with a
The LCA initially raised about $235,000 to assist the undocumented
community in the area. The first priority is geared towards individuals.

“One was basic needs of displaced, undocumented workers,” Coller said.
“That means that you were laid off during this crisis and that you have
basic needs when it comes to food and rent payments. We can offer a
disbursement of up to $600. For a household, we would have available up
to $1,000. That would be through a more in-depth assessment by a case
manager/volunteer who would figure out what we can do.  The idea is to
try to make use of other resources that are in the city, but when nothing
else is available, we can dip into this pot of money and help at least a
little bit.”

The second was small businesses.

“The second priority is immigrant-owned businesses, businesses that are
owned by undocumented owners who are struggling right now,” Coller
said. “The Latino Chamber is helping us create an assessment of who
would be eligible. But that would be between $3,000-$5,000 for a business
that really needs that to make payroll and keep some of their employees
afloat. Hopefully the goal is that workers can benefit both arms.”

While the fund will only last until people can go back to work and
businesses open up once again, the need is great in Dane County. Some
estimates put the undocumented community at roughly 13,000 people in
Dane County. And so funds are still coming in.

“People are contributing online,” Coller said. “We’re getting $20, $50 and
$100 gifts. And then we have a couple of larger companies that have
given to-date to make the $235,000. Those are commitments that we got
before we announced the fund. Over the weekend, it was all through Pay
Pal truthfully. And people can always mail checks to Centro Hispano
because we check for mail twice a week.”

All of us will get through this pandemic through community.

To contribute to the Latino Consortium for Action Emergency Relief Fund,
visit or mail a check
to: Centro Hispano of Dane County, 810 W. Badger Road, Madison, WI