Working Across Hispanic Communities to Lift More Families into the Middle Class
“From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength” – César Chávez
Chávez’s powerful words still ring true after so many years. On the 20th anniversary of his passing on April 23, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) invited community leaders from Hispanic/Latino organizations throughout the United States to participate in a day-long National Hispanic Roundtable. The event took place at the White House’s historic Indian Treaty Room, where Julie Chávez Rodríguez, from the White House Office of Public Engagement, welcomed all attendees on behalf of the entire Administration, and reflected on the continuing significance of her grandfather’s legacy.
During this listening-learning session, stakeholders were joined by officials from ACF and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who were eager to discuss our agency’s human service programs as they pertain to the Hispanic and Latino community. How can we work together to increase access to health and human services for this community and its diverse subpopulations? Are there opportunities for successful partnerships and what would these look like?
Nearly 50 leaders representing constituencies including early childhood professionals, civil rights advocates, religious leaders, nonprofit managers and influential promotoras welcomed the opportunity to meet face-to-face with ACF’s senior leadership and program managers to discuss better ways to make our human services programs more accessible to eligible Hispanic families and children.
Luckily for us, we invited a group of professionals that weren’t afraid to share their opinions. Before we broke for lunch, we had already amassed pages and pages of notes. Below are just a few of the thoughts discussed during our listening-learning sessions:
- How can ACF grant review panels better reflect the population where the grant is awarded so they can better understand the needs of the community?
- How can ACF better consider the emerging new Latino family that is mixed-status, in which only some family members may be eligible for certain benefits or services, and how we ensure access for eligible family members?
- How can ACF improve its cultural competency to understand that the outreach methods that work successfully for New York Puerto Ricans may not necessarily work well with Cuban Americans in Florida, Salvadoran Americans in the District of Columbia or Mexican Americans in Texas?
- How can ACF recruit more Latinos into the agency and help remove barriers into government service?
“I walked away with ACF’s desire to reshape opportunities for community based organizations—especially those serving Latino children- to build capacity as they strive to serve our Latino children and families,” said Cleo Rodriguez, executive director of the National Migrant Seasonal Head Start Association. “ACF was on a mission to learn from leaders in the field on what is working, what can be improved and where are the gaps which are preventing CBOs (community based organizations) from being competitive during the RFP (request for proposal) process.”
During our conversation on the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood program administered by the Office of Family Assistance, participants suggested that ACF incorporate a health aspect to the program that will include HIV/AIDS education. Currently, the program provides marriage counseling, financial literacy, parenting skills and conflict resolution. But several participants felt that it is important to address the growing epidemic of HIV infection among Latinas (the CDC reports that Latinas are four times more likely to get HIV/AIDS than non-Hispanic White women).
Echoing support for HIV education inclusion was ACF’s newest hire Laura Urioste. Laura who is employed as a staff assistant in the Administration of Children, Youth and Families, has worked within her Hispanic community and communities abroad prior to coming to ACF. Urioste said that empowering the female head of the household proved critical to achieving program goals including family well-being. By addressing cultural barriers first, you can clear a path to information delivery that will be accepted and respected.
Participants also discussed the opportunities provided by fatherhood programs to promote preventive health among males who typically are less likely to focus on prevention than women.
Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, director of the Office of Head Start, was our emcee and seamlessly led us through the day’s hot topics. In her closing remarks she stressed the importance of early childhood education, particularly for Latino children. She discussed how the President’s Early Learning Proposal would increase access to high quality education, to ensure that our children do not start behind on the first day of school.
Although opinions and frustrations with bureaucracy were shared throughout the day, everyone in the room felt it was important to work together to help Latinos struggling to get into the middle class to gain access to resources to achieve their American Dream.
ACF leadership welcomed the dialogue and the renewed partnerships made on the grounds of the White House. We look forward to building on these strengthened relationships to continue to better serve Hispanic families. To learn more about our Hispanic outreach efforts and program opportunities, visit our e-newsletter Infόrmate. Share this monthly publication with community members who can help amplify our message. ¡Juntos, sí podemos!
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Lillian Sparks Robinson