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Latinos, others sound off at SQACC roundtable

By Kevin Milliken,

La Prensa Correspondent


Toledo: What was originally billed as a listening and roundtable session for state legislators quickly became a call-to-action for local Latinos to re-energize, re-mobilize, and re-organize.


While five state lawmakers originally confirmed their attendance at the meeting, only two showed up—Sen. Edna Brown (D-Toledo) and Rep. Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon), a former Oregon city councilman recently appointed to the seat after the resignation of Matt Szollosi to take a union-related advocacy job in Columbus. Toledo City Councilman Adam Martínez also attended.


“There are so many non-profits out there. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but there are only so many dollars out there,” said Sen. Brown. “We’re going to have to learn to come together and say ‘This is an important program’ and non-profit agencies have to come together and ask for funding for that program instead of non-profits A, B, and C each asking for $5,000—and then you don’t have enough to do anything. You ask for $50,000 and decide which agency will administer it and then you can get something done. You may not like what I’m saying, but combine together and submit requests.”


The Adelante, Inc. board of directors organized the meeting, which was held Fri., Nov. 22, 2013 at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center (SQACC). A number of invited Latinos attended alongside select representatives from government, business, healthcare, and non-profit organizations. SQACC and the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs (OCHLA) assisted.


“The purpose of this meeting is to get community leaders—not just Hispanic leaders—in the same room talking about social services that aid the Hispanic community,” said Dr. Wendy Ziems-Mueller, Adelante, Inc. acting executive director. “We have great collaboration internally, but when we start to take a look at the broad services that are provided and focus on the social services themselves, oftentimes Hispanics get forgotten.”


According to Dr. Ziems-Mueller, Latino-based non-profit groups in Toledo have seen a significant and steady decline in recent funding, one of the reasons which prompted the gathering. For example, Adelante, Inc. officials reported a 40-percent drop in the agency’s operating budget over the last six years. As a result, programs have been cut and others diminished in their capacity to help. 95 percent of Adelante’s funding stream comes from grants.


“It’s just the beginning. We’ve seen a lot of conversations on how we can serve our community and we thought it was time to bring the Hispanic community front-and-center,” said Dr. Ziems-Mueller. “We are hoping to begin to form a coalition of sorts and make sure we are at the table and Hispanics are covered. The importance of our services can only happen if we have the support of the community, of the funders, and we cannot be forgotten.”


Dr. Ziems-Mueller compared the needs of the Lucas County Latino community to that of the overall population. 48 percent of residents consider themselves in good health, as compared to just 38 percent of Latinos. While 71 percent of the overall community is considered overweight or obese, 79 percent of Latinos fit that category. 17 percent of the county’s Latino population is uninsured.


“That’s scary,” she said.


Adelante client Marisol Verdin, a single Spanish-speaking parent with three children, told the crowd about how the agency has helped her to assimilate with its social services. She told the crowd she “didn’t know where to go or what to do” when it came to seeking services to help her family, which has now lived in Toledo for eleven years. Her oldest son was being drawn into a gang lifestyle, but she said Adelante helped him stay away through its youth programming, much of which has now been cut due to lack of funding.


“We’re just going to have to shout a little louder to ensure that we’re heard,” said Adelante board member David Ybarra.

Ramón Pérez: The History of Adelante, Inc.


According to Ramón Pérez of United North (a merged north end community development corporation): “In the early 1990s a group of Latino(a) activists met in Columbus to discuss the low to no-funding of substance abuse and treatment funding for Latinos across the state. The Ohio Department of Health was not recognizing the destruction that drug abuse and addiction was causing in our respective communities including the lack of funding being allocated to address this problem statewide.


“The group representing Latinos in northwest Ohio decided to voice their concerns and advocate collectively for funding. The Latino representatives from Toledo began to seek support from established substance abuse prevention and treatment agencies that were receptive to our plight and to help support our agenda for our fair share of funding.


Jack Ford was director of SASI at the time and as a result helped establish the first outpatient treatment services for Latinos in Toledo. The counselors were all Latino and had their program set up in South Toledo. A year later the three Latino counselors decided it was time to establish their own agency and hence ‘Adelante’ was born.


“Adelante was given its name because of its significance in meaning “forward.” The idea for establishing Adelante was predicated on the vision of not only providing direct treatment services to families but to, more importantly, address the bigger picture of causative factors of drug abuse and poverty; and the long standing neglect of funding and services for Latino families in Toledo that also impacted their social and economic well-being.


“Adelante is still poised to be a powerful catalyst for real social, economic and political empowerment for Latino families in Toledo; we just need to support them with recruiting the right majority of visionaries and doers at the board level,” reported Pérez.   


Attendees address the audience of about 35 - 40 invitees


“If we came up with a serious proposal, we’d be getting some serious money, but we haven’t done that.” said Margarita DeLeón in a heated moment during the 90-minute meeting. “We haven’t been good at asking for it, but there’s a ton of money that needs to be coming into our community.”


“We need to get back to the fundamentals of what created our funding in the first place,” echoed Baldemar Velásquez, co-founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), a reference to the civil rights movement and resulting anti-poverty programs. “As the money shrinks, we’re all sitting around with our hands out—and I think that’s the wrong focus.”


Velásquez admitted FLOC has focused its recent efforts on migrant farmworkers in North Carolina and politicizing the immigration issue. But he stated a need to push immigration reform to the forefront in Toledo is important [especially since the US Senate has already passed a bill for immigration reform, which has been bottlenecked in the US House of Representatives because of its speaker John Boehner’s refusal to submit the Senate bill to a vote].


“You have no idea how many people are unseen and unheard in our community-- undocumented people afraid to come to any of your agencies and seek services because they don’t have Social Security numbers. They are under everybody’s radar screen,” said Velásquez. “They come to our office and work all over—restaurants and housekeeping right here in Toledo—and they’re hurting. They’re divided. The kids are afraid to go outside and play because they fear the local cops are going to come get their parents and take them to immigration. We have some serious problems here.”


Velásquez committed to taking a first step through FLOC, by hosting a community organizing workshop in January for young Latino adults and teens “so we can bring those concerns and those petitions to city and government leaders.” The local immigrant population will be included in that training group.


“I’m tired of us having a beggar mentality in the public view,” said the FLOC leader. “We are citizens of this community and we should stand up for what is rightfully ours and it’s not a handout. It’s taxes that we paid. Those taxes need to come back so we can build our families and rebuild our neighborhoods.”


Retired professor Dr. Manuel Caro questioned whether Latino leaders had “put the cart before the horse.” “Here we’ve been called together, all of us here, and where’s the conversation that should have taken place before this meeting among Latinos?” he openly wondered. “To hash things out, to work among ourselves to come up with the necessary leadership and dialogue that may not be pretty. But that’s what needs to happen and we don’t need people speaking for us.”


“When I come to these meetings, I’m frustrated and I leave even more frustrated, maybe even a little angry,” said an emotional Bob Vásquez, who was recently re-elected to the Toledo Public Schools board of education, his voice cracking. “I’m glad to help if I know we’re going someplace. We’ve been saying the same thing for the last 15 years.”


“How do you avoid a gap in service delivery to a community that is growing when the funding is dropping at such a level?” asked Nolan Stevens, OCHLA public policy director. “Is everyone else seeing a drop in funding, program cuts, staff cuts, when the (Latino) population continues to grow?”


Additional Roundtable Comments


Representatives from Latino-based groups recognized the need for continued collaboration and the elimination of duplicative services. But they sounded a warning bell that other mainstream, community-based services must be culturally-competent and culturally-sensitive, keeping in mind the growing number of Spanish-speaking families in Toledo and their cultural traditions as they seek to assimilate to life in Toledo.


Some of the community leaders in attendance were sympathetic and offered their advice to try to help the cause.


“I’ve learned that we need to learn the culture of the Latino population,” offered Becky Spencer, executive director of Partners in Education. “Family values are solid and that might change how work is approached. Work ethic is incredible. Even how we greet each other may make some uncomfortable if they don’t understand the Latino way.”


Ms. Spencer also reported she could not find any bilingual preschool teachers when she ran day care programs at the YMCA locally. She stated her “hope that has changed.”


“I have a pet peeve and that is we, as a community, spend way too much time admiring our problems and not putting together a plan of action,” said Paul Toth, president/CEO of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “The best thing you can do is pick. Start with a problem you can make progress on. Start with something small and achieve it. Put your efforts behind that and you’ll be amazed by how much momentum you can build.”


Other notable leaders in attendance included: United Way President/CEO Karen Mathison, Toledo Community Foundation President/CEO Keith Burwell, Robert Kasprzak (Mental Health Recovery Services Board), José Luna (Toledo Public Schools), Tim Schneider (ProMedica), Dee Sabo (Martin & Martin Insurance), Justin Campbell (Brooks Insurance), Carlos Ruiz, Mary García Aguirre (L. Hollingworth School), Derek Steck (Exec. Assistant to Auditor Anita López), María González, Michelle Klinger, Brittany Ford, Joe Balderas (SQACC), Rico Neller, Cesario Durán (FLOC) and other Adelante staff/board, Carrie L. Sponseller (Adelante. Inc.’s board president), Guisselle Mendoza (Adelante’s director of programs and services), Lisa Canales (Adelante board), and Dan Briones (Adelante board).


Rico de la Prensa contributed to this report.


Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/26/13 20:05:36 -0800.




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