Southwest Michigan is home to a great deal of our state’s more than half a million Latinx population. An initiative that started almost 40 years ago, El Concilio is committed to supporting a thriving community that is equipped to preserve the diverse Latinx cultural identities in our region. “Our mission is to empower our community and give them the tools to be their best,” said Juliana Hafner, El Concilio program coordinator.
Throughout the year, El Concilio offers programming and services such as a bilingual preschool, tutoring and academic support for adults and children, after-school and family programs, community events, and general assistance to those with language, cultural, and/or legal barriers that may require additional education and advocacy for various issues. All programs are focused on the goal of attaining self-sufficiency and a higher level of social and economic well-being.
“When you come from another country and are unsure how the systems work, it can be intimidating to try to deal with it by yourself,” said Juliana. “I moved to Kalamazoo from Columbia almost four years ago, and when I found El Concilio, it was like finding a home. It’s a place where I could find people speaking my language who understand my struggles. It was super-powerful and inspiring because I no longer felt like I was alone or didn’t fit in.”
Every year during Hispanic Heritage Month, El Concilio hosts its annual Nuestres Raices Gala. Although the event was held virtually, $6,500 was raised for the organization. “We were worried about hosting the event virtually, but our sponsors really helped us to stay inspired to do our work every day,” said Juliana. “It was a great moment to celebrate and thank the community members that volunteer and the children and families that trust in us.” Local organizations including the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, the United Way, Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Unidos U.S., and the Styker Johnston Foundation support not only the gala but programming throughout the year.
In addition to the Nuestres Raices Gala, El Concilio is also hosting a Día de los Muertos event virtually on November 2 and is always in need of volunteers for its tutoring programs as well as donations to the cause. “We host these events to teach people about our traditions and break the stereotypes about what being Latino means,” said Juliana. “It means a lot to us when the greater community joins our events. It shows that they care and want to know more about what we do.”
The greater community has also recently stepped up to support the local Latinx community through the M.I. Gente fund, which has distributed nearly $180,000 and supported 357 families. While it can be challenging to be from a minority community, Juliana said she feels supported by the people in our region. “I feel like I have the responsibility to be the voice of my clients and my community for people that don’t speak the language. Being Latina in Kalamazoo, I want to show people the diversity—that we have good ideas and are worth it even if we come from other countries,” said Juliana. “I love that Kalamazoo is diverse and people want to support and preserve diversity. So, even though it’s challenging, we feel welcomed here.”