Boosting Centro’s Connections

By Shayna Mace | Photo by Hillary Schave

Centro Hispano’s expansion of programming for kids is an exciting step forward for the nonprofit, driven by a brand-new building.

When Karen Menéndez Coller joined Centro Hispano of Dane County as executive director 10 years ago, the nonprofit had 10 employees. Now, at 36 employees strong and a space that’s bursting at the seams on West Badger Road, Coller
is thrilled that Centro is achieving a dream that the nonprofit has been aiming for since the 1990s: a brand-new building, opening in spring 2024, and the opportunity to expand their programming to connect with even more Latinx families in Madison.

Centro serves Madison’s Latinx community, which Coller notes is Dane County’s fastest-growing demographic. The nonprofit’s areas of focus include workforce development, family and immigration resources, community programming and supporting middle- and high school-aged kids.

Calling Centro a “home base” for Latinx people, Coller says their mission boils down to making sure that this community feels supported, included and connected to the Madison region and the resources that Centro provides — in partnership with other agencies.

“We create a sense of belonging so that our families can thrive, which is the goal. Centro is a space where we do a lot of asset-building, focusing on [social] skills for young people and adults. So, they can feel powerful whether they’re applying for a job or making their way through the educational system,” explains Coller.

Centro runs the Juventud, Escalera and Avanzando programs, which serve middle through high schoolers and into the college transition, respectively. Kids are referred to Centro’s programs by school staff or recruited to join through community outreach, and programming typically focuses on re-engaging students “who are perceived by school staff or community referrals as floating by … or needing a stronger connection and confidence in who they are,” notes Coller. Students receive academic support, leadership development and family connection through a variety of means: tutoring, field trips, listening to speakers and workshops.

Partnering primarily with the Madison Metropolitan School District (“we see the biggest gaps there for our kids,” notes Coller) some of Centro’s programming takes place at MMSD schools. They also run after school and summer programs at Centro, which currently has only

one room dedicated to their youth programming, says Coller. The nonprofit works with 300 kids per year, and Coller expects to double that amount in the new building, due to $2 million the nonprofit recently received for operational and program growth.

The chance to support Latinx students after high school graduation also energizes Coller, who has big plans to expand their certified nursing assistant track program. It’s yet another way Centro’s expansion, along with more staff hires in 2024 and beyond, can augment a successful Latinx population.

Coller is looking forward to welcoming the community into Centro’s new, 25,000-square-foot, $18 million building in spring 2024, which is located around the corner from their current south side location. She adds that she’s happy that Centro will continue to be an important part of the city’s growing and evolving South Side.

“What excites me is having … the space we need to do the work so we can keep building these partnerships and ensure our kids continue to thrive,” says Coller. “I think the work we do at Centro is really unique because it complements everything else going on in the city, and I want an organization that’s sustainable so we can keep pushing the envelope in Madison.”

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