Meet Lesbia

Thanks to @Citi Foundation #ProgressMakers, Lesbia makes her career dream a reality!


When Lesbia was very young, her parents made a difficult decision. They wanted a better future for their family, so they moved from Central America to the U.S. to find it.

During that period, her parents were back and forth between the countries, and Lesbia rarely saw them. Six years later, she finally joined them on American soil.

When she started school, Lesbia couldn’t speak English. Other kids made fun of her name. She struggled.

But eventually, she learned to stop caring what other people thought. She realized that this new country held a wealth of opportunities.

As time went on and they worked to adjust to the U.S., other members of Lesbia’s family found Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF). They referred her, and after obtaining a work permit, she was able to get temporary child care assistance at HUF.

HUF changed Lesbia’s life. She was supported by multiple HUF programs, including Income Support, Financial Literacy, and the Bridge Program, where she completed the Customer Service and Sales Training, as well as the Patient Care Technician EKG/Phlebotomy Training. She’s currently finishing a class in math at Sheridan Technical School, and has a bright future.

Thanks to HUF, Lesbia’s family will no longer live paycheck to paycheck, and she, her husband, and her children will live better lives.


The Bridge Program at Hispanic Unity opens up a world of opportunities! With the generous support of @Citi Foundation and the Community #ProgressMakers grant, program participants have access to tuition assistance for career pathways in high demand fields, including national certifications in Patient Care Technician (PCT) and Customer Service and Sales Training (CSST).


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Meet Marisol

Thanks to @Citi Foundation #ProgressMakers, Marisol makes her dream a reality!


From Boston, to Puerto Rico, to Miami, Marisol has been following her American dream since birth.

Born in Boston, she spent several years in the historic city before her family relocated to Puerto Rico, where she grew up and attended school.

As an adult, Marisol made the difficult decision to move to Florida in search of a better future for her family. She sought more safety and security. Marisol was excited and deeply committed to grow and thrive in her new home!

Starting fresh presented numerous challenges, however. She struggled to find work while caring for her two beloved children.

Luckily, Marisol found Hispanic Unity of Florida. Her brother had participated in HUF’s Center for Working Families program and referred her.

Marisol took the many opportunities offered by HUF and ran with them. She received income support through gift cards, child care assistance, hurricane relief help, and affordable housing. She also entered the Bridge Program where she became certified through HUF’s Customer Service and Sales Representative (CSR) training.

Shortly thereafter, she was able to secure part-time employment. Marisol says that the training helped her be more in touch with clients and better understand their needs.

The hard-working mother wanted to take things further and thrive in a new career, so she completed HUF’s Patient Care Technician Program (PCT) at Sheridan Technical College – a highly specialized training with a focus on EKG and Phlebotomy.

Countless new opportunities are now available to Marisol, and she plans to move on into the Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) Program. Eventually, she’ll work in a private practice, and she credits HUF for helping her to empower herself and help ensure her family’s successful future.


The Bridge Program at Hispanic Unity opens up a world of opportunities! With the generous support of @Citi Foundation and the Community #ProgressMakers grant, program participants have access to tuition assistance for career pathways in high demand fields, including national certifications in Patient Care Technician (PCT) and Customer Service and Sales Training (CSST).

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The Immigrant Workforce

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Applicants at a HUF Job Fair  

The Urban Institute recently released a research report titled Upskilling the Immigrant Workforce to Meet Employer Demand for Skilled Workers.

The report – and its two page factsheet – provide guidance for policy makers, workforce organizations – both public and private – employers and funders (such as the ones that support the work of organizations such as HUF’s.)

The report takes a look at the whole US but supplements its findings through site visits and interviews with a variety of stakeholders in three metro areas, Seattle, Dallas and Miami-Fort Lauderdale.

Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) participated in the study and shared with the researchers our own insights into the work we do assisting immigrants who are both unemployed as well as, underemployed.

The report’s tables and appendices include information on the top 100 US metro markets. These provide a broad lens through which we can compare and contrast our own situation in South Florida. And although we work with the immigrant community every day, two of the items in the research report particularly resonated for us:

48% Foreign born

South Florida, along with Los Angeles, have the highest number of foreign born residents – 48% and 43% respectively – of any of the top metro markets in the US.  (San Jose’s population also is 48% foreign born but unlike South Florida, 53% of those immigrants have college or advanced degrees. It’s a tech hub, after all.)

How many of us know that Broward County’s percentage of foreign-born residents is nearly 33% – or 3 out every 10 residents?

The implications are significant for our community. Our immigrant population is mostly first generation. And the needs of this population are different then communities where the immigrants are second or third generation or where the immigrants are English literate and highly educated.

Local communities with large foreign born residents must invest in foundational resources to assist these immigrants in their integration – which in turn – benefits the whole community.

At HUF where we serve immigrants from 30 different nations, our work is focused on English language instruction, education (for both parents and children), economic development (employment, small business creation, asset building, health and child care supports) and civic engagement.

Diversity of the Immigrant Community

This from the research report: This diversity within the immigrant workforce—with high numbers at both ends of the educational spectrum—is important context for our focus in this report on opportunities for immigrants employed in lower- and middle-skilled jobs.

At HUF, we simultaneously work with former professionals such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc.  as well as individuals who never completed high school. This diversity within the immigrant community requires different approaches to the work community organizations such as HUF undertakes. For us, it means providing core services that are fundamental to all clients while providing “add-ons” such as information on how to have educational credentials certified for immigrants with college or advanced degrees.


“One out of every six workers in the US are immigrants.” The research report’s conclusions offers guidance for all our community’s stakeholders: state and local policy makers, workforce development service providers, funders and employers. Woven throughout the report are the community based organizations that are often at the frontlines of the work with immigrants.

I recently re-read GCIR’s Toolkit on immigrant integration. And the authors said this: “… immigrant integration engages and transforms all community stakeholders, reaping shared benefits and creating a new whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

South Florida is at full employment. Now is the time to support and address the needs of our whole community including communities of color and the immigrant community.

(Josie Bacallao, President/CEO of Hispanic Unity of Florida, also is a board member of CareerSource Broward and Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. She was formerly on the board of the Fort Lauderdale Chamber.)

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Why Is Florida Not Tracking and Sharing Information on the Progress of 290,000 Students?

This article was originally published on June 6, 2018 on the UnidosUS website.

As of this posting, Florida is the only state in the nation to not have a federally approved accountability plan.

On April 20, 2018, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) submitted its revised Florida Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE).

Hispanic Unity of Florida is a member of a coalition of civil rights organizations that earlier this year during Florida’s Legislative Session, proposed legislation that would align Florida’s school accountability system with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the largest federal law governing K-12 education. Florida’s current system neglects to factor into its school grades the test scores of many English learner (EL) and Latino students, and fails to use a native language assessment when appropriate for the 10% of Florida’s K-12 students who are learning English.

Effective implementation of ESSA at the state and district level is key to ensuring that educators and ELs have the data and tools they need to become English proficient and academically successful as swiftly as possible.

Under ESSA, in exchange for federal funds, states must track and report the performance of subgroups of students—racial and ethnic minorities, those from low-income families, ELs, and those with disabilities—when assessing school performance.

Florida’s revised ESSA plan, however, sidesteps the intent of the federal law by bundling together the lowest-performing students regardless of subgroup. That means schools that are not meeting the needs of every subgroup can still get a passing grade, and parents are not aware.

The revised Florida plan creates the new “Federal Percent of Points Earned Index” (FPPEI) of which subgroup performance and an English Language Proficiency Indicator will be components. The fact that Florida created the FPPEI is a good sign that the state recognizes its obligation to align the state’s system with federal law. The FPPEI, a new section of a Florida school’s report card, in effect creates a parallel accountability system. The calculation of a school’s grade still does not take into account subgroup performance and English language proficiency. This decision is problematic, confusing and unnecessary.

What’s more, while the federal government urges states, when appropriate, to test students in their native language to better assess what they know—Florida chose not to meet this requirement, despite being home to one of the nation’s largest EL population.


A recent report by UnidosUS (formerly NCLR) study highlights that Florida educates the third-largest     K–12 EL population in the nation. ELs make up 10% of Florida’s student population; nearly 290,000 students. The majority of ELs—75%—in the state speak Spanish. According to recent Florida state assessment results, double-digit gaps exist in graduation rates and academic achievement between ELs and their non–EL peers.

As a result of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, it is estimated that Florida is now home to between 10,000 to 12,000 Puerto Rican students. While these students are American citizens, they also are predominately ELs.

For more information about ESSA and education issues impacting the Latino community, visit and UnidosUS’s education-focused website, Progress Report: Ensuring the Success of All Students.


  • Have conversations about ESSA with parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, candidates and state elected officials. Bring up the “Advocate Questions” in the conversation.
  • Engage parents and other stakeholders in your area by hosting an ESSA meeting at your school or a community-based organization.
  • Follow and Vote: Follow what local and statewide candidates have to say about education. Vote for candidates in the Primary Election on August 28, 2018, and the General Election, November 6, 2018 who are committed to all K-12 students. As voters we can and must make education a top campaign issue this election cycle!
  • Learn more: LULAC Florida will host an Organizational Roundtable and Community Forum on June 15, 2018 in Miami, at the Dadeland Marriott at 5:30 p.m.

By Josie Bacallao, President and CEO of Hispanic Unity of Florida, an UnidosUS Affiliate

To learn more about why activists are urging Secretary DeVos to reject Florida’s ESSA Plan, read this Education Week article.


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Office of New Americans of Miami-Dade County Partners with Hispanic Unity of Florida to Launch FREE Citizenship Classes at Libraries throughout Miami-Dade County

Pink Hobbies Facebook Post

The Office of New Americans of Miami-Dade County (ONA), established to promote naturalization campaigns and citizenship events, recently partnered with Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) to launch the Pathways to Citizenship program aimed at helping eligible permanent residents in Miami-Dade become U.S. citizens. HUF, a non-profit established in 1982, has empowered more than 400,000 individuals in South Florida during its 36-year history.

The Pathways to Citizenship program offers free weekly citizenship classes, assistance with the naturalization interview and application, and financial coaching. Classes are open at eight library locations: Little Havana, North Miami Beach, Homestead, Kendall, Miami, Aventura, Sunny Isles and Hialeah. For general information or registration, please visit: or contact: (305) 562-1796.

HUF is an Accredited Representative by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)—one of 20 organizations in South Florida that possess such designation. DOJ representatives, like immigration attorneys, are authorized to counsel, complete forms, and represent immigration clients during USCIS interviews.

“Miami-Dade County is proud to be a co-founder of the Office of New Americans, created to empower our local communities,” said Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez. “Our new partnership with Hispanic Unity of Florida and Miami-Dade Public Libraries will bring the Pathways to Citizenship initiative to new heights ensuring that Miami-Dade residents have the tools they need to realize their American dream of becoming a U.S. citizen.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data shows that more than 88,000 people obtained legal permanent resident (LPR) status in South Florida in 2016. That makes our region, the third highest ranking in the country for people obtaining LPR status, following New York City and Los Angeles.

In the last decade, HUF has empowered more than 12,000 aspiring citizens from more than 30 countries to achieve their goal of U.S. citizenship. In 2017, more than 5,000 eligible students attended classes at HUF and at partnering Broward and Miami-Dade libraries, and more than 30 trained volunteers contributed more than 2,300 hours as instructors last year.

“U.S. citizenship is a crucial step toward improving the social, civic, and economic well-being of children and families– as well as our communities,” said Josie Bacallao, President/CEO of HUF. “Thousands of aspiring citizens are ready to take this critical first step, but they lack the resources to do so. With 36 years of social and civic service to the community and more than a decade of citizenship work in South Florida, HUF is uniquely positioned, in this new partnership with ONA, to connect eligible residents with the resources to naturalize, and well as receive financial coaching and legal assistance.”

The Pathways to Citizenship program led by the Office of New Americans (ONA) of Miami-Dade County and Hispanic Unity of Florida, Inc. is a county-wide initiative made possible with the support from our Corporate Founding Partner Citi Community Development and the generosity of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. Partners in Miami-Dade County include: Miami-Dade Public Library System and the City of North Miami Beach and their North Miami Beach Library. Media partners include Univision 23, UniMas 69, Amor 107.5, Mix 98.3, WQBA and Radio Mambi.

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Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) Selected by Citi Foundation to Accelerate Opportunity in South Florida

A significant investment in core operating support will enable HUF to provide clients with access to customized vocational training programs and rewarding career pathways

CPM Social GIF


The Citi Foundation today announced that Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) was selected as the recipient of a $500,000 grant as part of the 2018 Community Progress Makers Fund.

The Fund is a $20 million, two-year initiative by the Citi Foundation to support high-impact community organizations that are driving economic opportunities in our communities, by bringing together residents, nonprofits, businesses, and municipal agencies.

HUF joins a group of 40 change agents (five in south Florida) that are playing a key role in coordinating the efforts of multiple partners toward common goals and working in new ways to address urban challenges in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami/South Florida, New York City, San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington D.C.

Through the fund, HUF will have the opportunity to offer low- and moderate-income families with access to customized vocational training programs, credentials and career pathways for middle-skill jobs in high demand.

“We launched this program in 2015 as our version of ‘venture philanthropy’ – a chance to invest in the vision and mission of these organizations who are helping positively transform their communities,” said Brandee McHale, President of the Citi Foundation. “We’re pleased with the results from our inaugural Community Progress Makers and are looking forward to implementing the lessons we’ve learned with this next, impressive group of community leaders as they scale, innovate and drive impact.”

“HUF is proud to be the Ellis Island of South Florida empowering immigrants to transition into their new lives and live their American dream. We do this by offering wraparound services, including English classes, financial coaching and career services,” said Josie Bacallao, HUF’s President & CEO. “We are honored to be selected by the Citi Foundation, and as part of the City Progress Makers Fund, we will pilot the Pathways to Progress program, a workforce training program aimed at improving the income and economic stability of working families, by setting the foundation for meaningful – and rewarding – careers.”

In 2016-2017, the inaugural cohort of Community Progress Makers helped more than 14,700 low-income people secure financial assets; built over 10,500 affordable housing units; strengthened more than 1,100 small businesses; and connected 1,800 young people to jobs in their communities.

Join us in congratulating the 2018 Community Progress Makers
by commenting on this blog and on our Facebook post
Catalyst Miami
The Miami Foundation
United Way of Miami-Dade
Urban League of Broward County
Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF)
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Hispanic Unity of Florida Inducts 2018 Board Officers

We are pleased to announce our new Board officers, as well as the full slate of Board members for 2018.

Charles Tatelbaum, a Director with the Ft. Lauderdale law firm of Tripp Scott, P.A., has been elected to serve as Chair of the HUF Board of Directors.  Mr. Tatelbaum has been a Board member and officer for the past five years and served as the Chair of the HUF Development Committee. He succeeds Guillermo Gomez (Woodforest National Bank) who served as the Board Chair in 2017. Rounding out the Executive Committee, are the following elected officers: Lucia Rodriguez (Comcast) as Chair-Elect; Emma Pfister (Templeton & Company) as Treasurer, and Christina Paradowski (Tripp Scott, P.A) as Secretary. Guillermo Gomez will continue to serve as an officer as Past-Chair.

Mr. Tatelbaum expressed his pleasure and excitement in embarking on this opportunity to lead the Board of an organization that provides so many vital and needed services to the South Florida community. He stated that with the unique diversity of the South Florida community, he welcomes the opportunity to chair HUF’s Board of Directors so that he can be part of augmenting the services provided to the community by HUF.

In addition to his more than 50 years of practice as an attorney focusing on bankruptcy and creditors’ rights issues, complex business litigation, Uniform Commercial Code transactions and lender liability litigation, Mr. Tatelbaum has been active in the South Florida community. He has served as a member (and Chair) of the Board of Friends of WLRN, a volunteer for Broward Partnership for the Homeless, as well as serving on the Board of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Lucia Rodriguez (Chair-Elect) is Sr. Director of Sales and Marketing Communications at Comcast. She has more than 20 years of experience in the Television/ Telecommunications industry, with a proven-track record in Multicultural Marketing and Management. Educated in Venezuela and the United States, she holds a degree in Advertising and Public Relations from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello, and a Master’s degree in Broadcast Administration from Boston University.

Emma Pfister (Treasurer) is a Partner in Templeton & Company LLP’s Tax Services Division. She has more than 30 years of experience in providing tax services, planning and consulting.  She is based in the firms’ Fort Lauderdale office.  A longtime resident of Broward County, she is active on the Board of the Friends for Jack & Jill Children’s Center in Fort Lauderdale and has been active in the St. Anthony Parish School in Fort Lauderdale serving in past leadership positions.

Christina V. Paradowski (Secretary) is an attorney with Tripp Scott, P.A., and focuses her practice in the areas of creditors’ rights, commercial litigation, and general civil litigation. In addition to her service on HUF’s Board, she is also a member of the current Leadership Broward class (Class XXXVI), a graduate of Women Leading Broward (Class IV), and the Immediate Past President of the Broward County Gator Club (an official affiliate of the University of Florida Alumni Association).

Willy Gomez (Past-Chair) has served on the Board of Hispanic Unity for three years and will remain on the Executive Board. Mr. Gomez is Florida’s Regional President for Commercial Banking at Woodforest National Bank. He is a graduate of the University of Miami. Previously, he served nine years on the Board of the Make a Wish Foundation of Southern Florida with one year as Chairman of the Board, and served on the Board of the Miami Science Museum for 12 years.

HUF is proud to welcome six new members to the Board of Directors: Dr. Rolando Garcia (Broward College), Daniel Herz (DFH Business Consultants Inc.), Daphne Maingot (Crowe Horwath LLP), Angie Stone (Citrix), Daniel Schevis (Community Volunteer) and Carolina Cardozo, Esq. (attorney). Continuing in their roles as members of the Board are: Melida Akiti (Memorial Healthcare System), John Guerrero (JM Family Enterprises, Inc.), Hector Lima (Citrix), Al Quintana (Edward Jones Investments), and Steve Sampier (Community Volunteer). Catalina Avalos serves as HUF’s non-voting and pro bono legal counsel.

To learn more about HUF’s volunteer leadership on the board and on its committees, contact Felina Furer at 954-862-7693 to schedule a private tour.

Join us today in congratulating our 2018 Board in our Facebook page.

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