Despite growth in the Latino population, philanthropic giving to organizations serving this community has not kept pace with its increasing needs.
The Foundation Center in collaboration with Hispanics in Philanthropy conducted a study that found in the last decade, 1 percent of total foundation funding was designated for agencies that serve Latino communities. Funding levels have remained the same over the past 30 years.
In Illinois, the Latino population has increased by 32 percent during the last decade. Latinos are the state’s largest minority, accounting for about 16 percent of the total population and 30 percent of Chicago’s population. Yet none of the top 10 foundations whose grants explicitly target Latinos were located in the Midwest.
Mujeres Latinas en Acción, or Latina Women in Action, is one of many organizations in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods that benefit from philanthropic funding. The group’s development director, Sandra Del Toro, said 35 percent of the agency’s funding comes from foundations and corporations. While the number of people the group serves has increased, Del Toro said the philanthropic funding has essentially remained the same.
Mujeres Latinas en Acción helps women who are victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault by providing emergency shelter, counseling, child care and connections to health and legal services. In the last three years, the agency has helped about 2,000 new clients.
“Latinas want to come here because not only do we have Spanish speaking staff, we’re culturally competent,” said Executive Director Maria Pesqueira. “There is a waiting list for every program we have.”
The needs of the Latino community extend beyond Chicago. While the majority of Latinos live in the suburbs, only 14 of 66 organizations surveyed have created programs outside of the city that target Latinos – including Mujeres Latinas en Acción, which opened a satellite office in North Riverside.
Pesqueira laments that this increased need in both urban and suburban Latino communities has not been adequately funded.
“The point is there’s a need in our community and philanthropic dollars that are being invested are nowhere near the demand for services,” she said. “Our growth stretches our dollar.”
In the primarily Latino neighborhood of Pilsen, domestic violence is prevalent. Chicago police data shows that there are about nine cases of domestic disturbance or battery calls reported each day in this neighborhood.
The agency also offers programs to address issues beyond domestic violence. Latinos face disparities in education, housing, earnings and health care. In Illinois, over 20 percent of Latinos live in poverty, according to data from the Pew Hispanic Center. At Mujeres Latinas en Acción , where the average client earns $13,500 a year to support a family of four, there are programs to help overcome such obstacles.
Evely Padilla, who received help from the agency, said she knows firsthand about these kinds of challenges. She arrived in the U.S. from Mexico with no family, an abusive American husband, and various part-time jobs where she faced intimidation by her employers. Initially, she visited Pesqueira’s agency for domestic-violence counseling and later attended leadership workshops. With the organization’s support, Padilla eventually opened her own tailoring business.
“At Mujeres Latinas I learned how to make strong decisions and to try my best to accomplish my goals,” Padilla said, sitting in front of a wall of framed leadership diplomas. “I started out with only one sewing machine, but I can now support my three children through my business.”
Pesqueira, the executive director, said she views investment in the Latino community as worthwhile for the entire country.
“When you take into account who is going to be the future of this nation, it is Latinos. And yet philanthropy is not investing in the infrastructure of organizations that are the base for these communities,” she said. “In order to make a change, philanthropies need to be very specific about where the dollars are going to go based on the communities that they serve.”
--Written by Allison James