A Legacy of Uplifting Growing Communities: LaAmistad Is Raising Families in Greater Atlanta

A Legacy of Uplifting Growing Communities: LaAmistad Is Raising Families in Greater Atlanta

What began in 2001 with one person asking, what can we do to help students after school in Atlanta, Georgia, has flourished over the past two decades into LaAmistad Inc. Amistad is Spanish for friendship. In this case, LaAmistad is the name of a thriving, growing organization whose hallmark is finding a way to reach every member of the families they serve. We can only wonder if Bill Maness, Director of The Gym at Peachtree Presbyterian where it all started, could have imagined that his dream would one day grow to become after-school programs at twelve different locations. Or that the parents of the community’s children would eventually attend multiple locations to learn English as their second language, even as the demand for both programs is more significant than ever.

The true secret to LaAmistad’s success over the years in serving thousands of families is its team members’ commitment to genuinely caring about every person they touch and striving for excellence. The dedication is across the board and includes LaAmistad’s staff and community partners. Also, program funders not only help sustain the work financially. They join in by donating their time personally and rolling up their sleeves to help as volunteers. Funders say the experience gained through these mentoring opportunities has been the most beneficial. They can see firsthand and understand how their financial assistance makes a tangible change in people’s lives and the return on their investment is beyond their wildest expectations.

“The knowledge that a volunteer cares about a student’s success inspires gains in their academic performance, language fluency, and overall quality of life,” says Cat McAfee, Executive Director. “Proof of this is stories like that of Vanessa C., who initially attended LaAmistad’s after-school program as a first-grader. Her parents migrated to the United States from Mexico, and they made sure that Vanessa continued in our programs through high school. They also enrolled Vanessa’s siblings, and then Mom took our ESL course and graduated successfully. After Vanessa earns her college degree, we dream that she might come back and become a part of LaAmistad’s team. Now that would be exciting and a great example for other young people and families,” adds McAfee.

A recent major demonstration of LaAmistad’s keen understanding of its critical role for the Latino communities the organization serves happened when COVID19 led to massive school closures. “This meant that many of the students who depend on school lunches would have missed out on one or more of the most critical meals of their day,” recalls McAfee. “We adapted our school transportation bus into a meal delivery vehicle to reach and nourish our school-age students. During the past two years, we delivered more than 40,000 meals. This is a major achievement, and I am grateful to everyone who made this possible,” adds McAfee.

Atlanta is projected to continue being one of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan regions with a robust Latino presence in virtually every sector of its economy. LaAmistad is poised to grow with this population, which is younger, more mobile, and eager to gain an education, plus a good-paying job that provides for its families and ensures their future. Traditional county and local government agencies realize that reaching and serving this population segment presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Community education programs on such issues as preventative health care can help stem the need for more expensive acute care. Also, housing assistance and nutrition programs work best when coordinated with community agencies on the ground where the need is greatest. Local safety nets now include faith-based, secular, and business partners working together to forge solutions that address specific needs systematically.

LaAmistad has made tremendous strides by meeting stakeholders where they live and work. Sometimes the initial outreach and contact may be at a neighborhood church or social services distribution center. “The first step is building trust with new families, many of whom have heard of LaAmistad but may not know how to enroll or apply,” says Brendon Jaramillo, LaAmistad’s Communications Manager. “We are moving now into being very laser-focused with our messaging so that we can locate, identify and engage with multi-generational Latino households and be able to provide a value proposition for each member to become involved. Our access to technology enables us to geo-fence a specific five-mile radius and target whom we reach and what we say. By enabling our leadership and team to analyze big data collaboratively, we are able to leverage all of our resources and maximize our quality,” adds Jaramillo.

At the same time, LaAmistad is constantly taking the pulse of critical people in its service family. Jaramillo continues by saying, “I think one of the most vital activities we invest in involves constantly surveying students, volunteers, and staff asking how we can improve programs? Also, how can we make our communication processes smoother, better, and continuous? As importantly, LaAmistad is always interested in being on the leading edge of education, so we are always working to improve the learning materials we utilize at every level.” McAfee affirms that strategy and sees the opportunity to expand efficiently and effectively as LaAmistad increases its move to tap into new technological pools of knowledge. “Our decision-making remains data-driven, as we utilize the most current research and practices to inform the services we provide. We see both the need and the space to provide services beyond Metro Atlanta into other regions of Georgia and even beyond. We will examine each opportunity on its merit to see whether it aligns with our vision for the future to deliver educational services through a holistic approach. LaAmistad wants to understand and respond to all those factors that impact both school-age and adult students. Another cornerstone of LaAmistad we pledge to continue supporting is being an organization that welcomes and fully embraces all who wish to volunteer and be active agents of change for the better in their communities. Progress takes place incrementally, and every volunteer helps along the way. In this way, we can be true to the mission Bill Maness envisioned from the beginning and meet our commitment today to our wonderful sponsors and program partners who help sustain this work,” she adds.

To learn more about LaAmistad, check out their website here.

He fostered Latino entrepreneurs in Texas. His father lived the American dream in Kansas

He fostered Latino entrepreneurs in Texas. His father lived the American dream in Kansas

Resiliency and the desire for the American Dream are what contribute to the success of an entrepreneur in our country. Thank you to the Fort Worth Star Telegram for featuring our director of program development, Julian Martinez, and his entrepreneurial family lineage breaking barriers for Latino entrepreneurs in last Sunday’s edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Click here to view the full story.

SER National Marks Juneteenth as a Testament to Freedom of the Human Spirit

Ignacio Salazar, President, and CEO of SER Jobs for Progress National, Inc., issued the following statement to celebrate Juneteenth, 2022. This day is the first anniversary of this historical event as an official federal observance authorized by President Biden last year. The origin of Juneteenth dates back 156 years to June 19, 1865, when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were finally freed, two months after the end of the U.S. Civil War. Federal troops were sent to free the enslaved people from those who vowed to keep them until armed Union troops arrived. Only then did the former owners comply with the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln.
“SER National is proud and honored to join with millions of people across the United States and Puerto Rico in reflecting on the true meaning of this day. Juneteenth holds a special place in our hearts because it reminds us of the inherent yearning for freedom within each of us. This freedom is rooted deep in our human spirit and enables us to be uplifted, strengthened, and capable of enduring even the most challenging events in our lives. More than a century later, we can learn from the moving accounts of men, women, and children who held together after the end of the costliest war our nation has ever faced. They continued even after learning they were free while their owners kept them in shackles. Rather than rebel and be killed, these formerly enslaved people drew from the spiritual freedom within their hearts. They resisted through the resilience of their unwavering faith, knowing that release was near.
At SER National and throughout our SER Network of Affiliates, we sincerely believe that every individual has the inherent capacity to achieve, given opportunity, training, and effort. Like those courageous black Americans tasting freedom officially for the first time in their lives, the more than a million people we serve yearly experience the rewards of their resilience and perseverance. Many are free economically for the first time in their lives with new skills and purpose. They can begin to plan their futures for themselves and their families with nothing and no one to hold them back. Today, as in 1865, we stand at the edge of unlimited possibilities with the opportunity to break free from fear of the pandemic and work together to confront historical challenges. Also, our labor pool of willing workers is growing steadily, and our elected leaders are reckoning with issues that affect all of us, including public safety, economic stability, racial justice, and gender equity and equality.
Juneteenth, 1865 did not cure all our nation’s ills overnight. It would take time before formerly enslaved people broke through economic and social repression to achieve notable outcomes, like five who became elected leaders. Today, America is blessed to have advanced much farther, and we can celebrate and protect our freedoms for all.”

Biden names Julie Chavez Rodriguez

President Biden is naming Julie Chavez Rodriguez to serve as a White House senior adviser, putting her on par with some of his most senior and longest-serving aides and making her the first Latina to ever hold a top West Wing staffing role.
Rodriguez currently serves as director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the White House is set to announce Wednesday that she will retain that position and become a senior adviser and special assistant to the president, serving alongside other longtime Biden aides Mike Donilon, Steve Ricchetti and Anita Dunn, who recently returned to the White House.
Rodriguez will now be part of a wider clutch of aides, including chief of staff Ron Klain, deputy chief of staff Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and communications director Kate Bedingfield, who consult with the president daily on a wide range of domestic, foreign, communications and political issues.
When the president consults his senior team in the Oval Office, there’s a 22-inch-tall bronze bust of Cesar Chavez peering at them. Chavez is the late civil rights and farm worker leader who founded the union that eventually became known as the United Farm Workers — and Julie Chavez Rodriguez is his granddaughter.
That she’ll be sitting in on big meetings with the likeness of her grandfather watching “is pretty remarkable and speaks to both what I see as the important opportunities in this country but also that this administration continues to create,” Rodriguez told CBS News on Tuesday night. “That in two generations we can go from a farmworker to a senior adviser in the Oval Office sitting together.”
Her new role comes amid other staff changes set to be formally announced Wednesday, including the addition of Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta, who will lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, a job recently vacated by Cedric Richmond, who is now serving as an outside political adviser to the president.
The changes come as the White House is staffing up again for what is poised to be a rocky season for an increasingly unpopular president trying to stave off widespread Democratic Party losses in the midterm elections. Several senior staffers, many of whom worked on Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign or with him during the Obama administration, have departed for the private sector in recent weeks, others are expected to continue shifting into new roles and others may eventually move to the president’s 2024 anticipated reelection campaign.
Rodriguez’s current role keeps her in constant touch with lawmakers and the nation’s mayors, county executives and governors regarding Biden administration policies and in the aftermath of natural disasters or other emergencies.
Much of her work has focused on selling and explaining the bipartisan infrastructure plan and the American Rescue Plan, and how local and state leaders can apply for or reap the benefits of the record levels of federal funding established by the laws. But colleagues also noted that she relaunched the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico and ensured that her office’s director for Puerto Rican affairs was someone born and raised in Puerto Rico.
In the new role, Rodriguez said she expects to focus on those same issues, plus immigration reform and “the important impact that we’re having in the Latino community and making sure that that impact is understood and felt in communities across the country.”
Rodriguez served as deputy of the intergovernmental affairs office during the Obama administration after working on the Obama-Biden 2008 campaign. She credited the office’s then-director, Cecilia Munoz, who “served as a mentor and adviser to so many people like me that are continuing to impact and influence both government inside and outside in remarkable ways.”
As the Obama administration ended, Rodriguez was hired by then-Sen. Kamala Harris to serve as the new senator’s state director. She later worked on the Harris presidential campaign as a traveling chief of staff, a connection that eventually brought her back to Biden.
While there are four Latinos in the Biden Cabinet — the most to ever serve a president concurrently — Rodriguez will be the first Latina to hold such a senior role on a president’s West Wing staff.
It’s a decision likely to help assuage at least some concern among Latino lawmakers and civil rights organizations — usually expressed only privately but often directly to the president’s top aides — that Mr. Biden is missing valuable and important real-world and political perspective by not placing more Latinos in senior roles.
Luisana Pérez Fernández
Director of Hispanic Media
The White House

Empowering Latino Communities Through Leadership Training

For 20-years, Alex Fajardo and El Sol Neighborhood Center (El Sol) have been quietly working every day, transforming society one person at a time. The SER National Network Affiliate is located in San Bernardino, California. It trains men and women passionate and committed about serving their communities into becoming Influencers, energized, powerful promotoras, and promotores. The two Spanish words are gender-specific translations for the word Community Health Workers. Yet, the catch-all generic English term does not do justice to the impact being seen from the work of these highly skilled community leaders, most of whom are women. Nor does it adequately convey the respect and influence their title commands when a promotora trained by El Sol Promotores Training Center arrives and helps lead the community in tackling a local issue. To mistake them for people simply passing out flyers at corners or door-to-door is like comparing ordinary ketchup to pico de gallo spiked with habanero chiles and thinking they are the same because they both contain tomatoes.

“We are recruiting people from their community to lead from where they live,” says Fajardo. “These are men and women in the neighborhoods who speak the language of their area. Also, they have the heart, passion, and spirit to serve. They are effective because they know the challenges firsthand of their community, so no one can deny that when they speak. For example, a woman may be going through one of our domestic violence programs, and maybe she has gone through this herself. So, we try to recruit her to become a promotora who can help reach and empower other women going through that experience to seek and accept help to free themselves. Bottom line, our promotores face and live the same conditions and convey that truth when they are face-to-face with a politician or policymaker. El Sol develops the skills in promotoras to do the work of transformation. We are making leaders from the community who can create their own changes in their neighborhoods. The victory is when the community does not depend solely on outside services to improve their lives. They are sustainable when they find their solutions also,” adds Fajardo.
Another reason why El Sol’s approach to its mission is successful is because the template of local promotoras leading transformation can be applied to any issue that residents are facing in their community. Today, areas with significant Latino populations continue to confront chronic challenges in health and education to environmental needs. These can be as simple yet critical as even access to safe pathways to and from school or clean drinking water.

This was the lesson learned in Adelanto, California, located in the high desert, an hour-and-a-half northeast of Los Angeles. The city of 32,000 people, two-thirds Latino, is one example of a community where El Sol promotoras are making a significant difference. Nearly one-in-three residents live in poverty, and El Sol initially went into Adelanto to help families with basic programs, including mental health services. Then, they made a discovery that changed their focus entirely.

“Adelanto is a unique city in the region,” says Fajardo. “For example, there’s one part that has a lot of money, but then there are other parts of the town that have mobile homes, and the people who live there do not even have running water or their basic needs being met. When our promotoras were invited in, they got with the community, and we were able to, first of all, adopt safety as a priority issue,” he adds.
The Adelanto residents participating with El Sol went through a process like mapping out the branches of a tree themselves. This step helps stakeholders see what action is needed to make the necessary changes happen in their community. The people said they wanted to start with safety for their children. The promotoras learned that many of Adelanto’s boys and girls did not have sidewalks to and from school. Also, they found out the youngsters had to take a shortcut when it rained, but the shortcut was not safe. So, the parents advocated for change, and they mobilized to begin getting sidewalks built. Now, they are tackling the water issue.
Fajardo recalls when El Sol first visited Adelanto. “When we arrived, the promotoras were thinking about doing things like a class on mental health. Then we heard the people asking how we can talk about mental health or have peace of mind when we are worried about our little ones’? We are not going to be healthy until the needs of all the residents are heard by city leaders. To them, sidewalks may be something they take for granted where they live, but to our families and us, these can make a big difference in our area. So that is where the promotoras started working, and things are happening now because the people are the ones who dictate what they want to do. Our role is to help teach them how, so they learn and become their leaders.” Says Fajardo.

EL SOL has been recognized for its COVID-19 community outreach and education by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the President. El Sol is also very active in health education on chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes. Also, developing and providing data to shed light on the underlying causes of these diseases in the Latino community to attack the root causes, not just their effects. Fajardo says what keeps him motivated and working with El Sol is the reward of witnessing the transformation of ordinary, working men and women who go through the transformational training find their voice as leaders. “I recall vividly one man who works as a landscaper to care for his family between 8 AM and 5 PM, but after that, he is meeting with the Mayor and other leaders who seek out his counsel and leadership in their community. Seeing that promoter seated at the table where decisions are made inspires and keeps me going. Hopefully, having El Sol Neighborhood Center recognized and receiving this award will encourage founders to look at our model and want to support our work.”

If you would like to learn more about their work, visit their website.