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April 22, 2024

Grantee Partner Spotlight: Centro Unido Latino Americano

by Laura Zapater & Itzayan Rocha

The Ms. Foundation is proud to support our grantee partners, who are at the forefront of organizing and creating solutions that improve people’s lives and bring us closer to achieving a true democracy. The insight and perspective they provide is invaluable. The Q&A below was generated by Centro Unido Latino Americano Associate Director Laura Zapater and Marketing & Communications Specialist Itzayan Rocha. 

Centro Unido Latino Americano is a non-profit organization serving the rural community of McDowell County, North Carolina and surrounding areas. Their resources are curated for everyone in their community while also focusing on bridging barrier gaps, language accessibility, food security, and accessible healthcare. Centro Unido Latino Americano is a Ms. South grantee partner.

What brought you to this work?

Our Latinx community is at the heart of all of Centro Unido’s programs and services. Our goal is to break systematic barriers and create pathways for our community in hopes of establishing greater opportunities in the lives of community members. We also aim to bring cultural awareness to McDowell County and surrounding areas. This work is deeply rooted in who our team members are, their experiences, and the barriers they have faced. 100% of our staff identify as Hispanic/Latinx, speak Spanish, and come from diverse Latin American countries. Their lived experience and deep community knowledge gives them a unique understanding and expertise that can change the way services are delivered, making them more inclusive and culturally responsive.

How do you connect/collaborate in your community? Who are your key partners?

Centro Unido engages with community members, community leaders, other organizations, and government entities to work together towards similar goals and dreams. We’ve built strong and successful partnerships across locality levels, such as with McDowell Technical Community College at the local level, with Vaya Health at the regional level, and with Impact Health at the state level. Centro Unido also has the privilege of working alongside other Latinx-led organizations like HOLA Carolina, Unidxs, Vecinos, and more. We are continuously creating opportunities for collaboration with other organizations in hopes of learning and growing together to better serve our community.

What are you learning or what are you teaching?

As a community-based organization we are continuously learning about the ever-changing needs of our community. We have identified six strategic focus areas under which our programs are created: Health, education, workforce, leadership, advocacy, and art & culture. Through our programs we aim to provide our community with tools that can improve their quality of life. We offer classes for adults, including computer skills, English, GED, and entrepreneurship, all of which are provided at no cost and in Spanish. We engage youth in leadership opportunities through our VAMOS program and children through our after-school tutoring program. We also practice healing justice and talk about mental health to empower our Latinx women.

Tell us about a recent victory or something you’re proud of.

One of the things we are most proud of is the incorporation of our community’s cultures into every aspect of our work. In 2022, Centro Unido was able to bring a Latinx mural to McDowell County for the first time. This mural is a visual representation of our immigrant community and the impact we have in this country. Last September, we also held our second annual Culturas Unidas Festival, which was a massive success, with approximately 3,000 participants. We prioritize cultural awareness in every project we take part in, whether it be meetings, events, retreats, or programs. Our community’s culture is at the forefront of everything Centro Unido does, and it helps drive our organization forward.

What can philanthropy do better and/or how can individuals be helpful allies?

Having a deep understanding of the communities and the often very complex problems they are facing is key. Recognizing that community-based organizations are the experts, and each organization has different needs. Pivoting towards multi-year and unrestricted funding will create more sustainability, especially for small organizations in rural areas where funding is sometimes limited. Nevertheless, we are already seeing changes in the philanthropic world that bring hope for change.

What gives you hope?

The response from our community has been extraordinarily positive. Community members are excited to participate in our programs and take advantage of our services. Many community leaders are eager to connect with us and collaborate on projects that raise cultural awareness, create more equity for our communities, and establish long-lasting partnerships. We are hopeful that with the support we’ve received, Centro Unido will continue to provide its community members with services that will leave a lasting impact in McDowell County and surrounding areas.