Why advocate?  And how to get started.

One of my favorite books on not-for-profit management is called Forces for Good by   Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant. The authors posit that there are six practices that define high-impact independent sector organizations. The first best practice on their list is this: Work with government and advocate for change.


Most readers may think having this item as the first principle is odd. However, most nonprofit leaders will tell you we are proud of the work we do to change lives. But to make long-lasting change – change that will eventually eliminate the need for our agency’s very own existence – can only happen if we change the rules of the game for those we serve. For HUF that means removing barriers to opportunity in education, the economy and society. It means insisting that our public policies reflect our nation’s belief in fairness and equal opportunity.

We will engage in this work because we believe we are better, as people, and as a country, when we welcome our neighbors, care for each other, and help those in need. We are better when we embrace our differences.

And, public policy and advocacy can provide context for the work we do with our clients and the services we provide them, as well as, inform public policy with real world experiences. It will make our work complete.

During HUF’s 35th year of empowering and guiding aspiring Americans on their journey to their American dream, our Board of Directors has determined that public policy and advocacy should be part of the agency’s work.  The decision was based on our values, the reason why HUF was originally created and the experiences of those who built the organization.

The work is important – and demanding – and new to us. We have much to learn.

Our goals are straightforward:

  • Work closely with policymakers to propose and support policies that reduce socioeconomic disparities in education, careers, health access, financial well-being and citizenship and advance HUF’s Mission through local, state & federal government partnerships;
  • Raise awareness of policies that intentionally or inadvertently increase socioeconomic disparities in education, careers, health access, financial well-being and citizenship;
  • Ensure the presence of HUF – and client –  voices in state and federal policy debates and,
  • Increase civic engagement of immigrants in the electoral and political process.

These are ambitious goals with an ever-changing and dynamic list of objectives.

In addition to advancing policies that are good for our clients and create awareness of policies that might hurt them, we also want to educate and empower our clients to add their own voice to the public square. And, lastly, we aim to encourage greater participation in the electoral process by those we serve.

Yes, ambitious but critically important.

We wanted to share this exciting new addition to HUF’s work because you are part of the HUF Family. You share our values. You believe in our mission. You are a volunteer or financially support our work.

We will start the work – slowly. Our values will inform what we do, in the same way that they guide our mission delivery – every day.

We will remain the nonpartisan agency you’ve come to respect and support. We will not engage in personal attacks. We will respect other’s points of views.  And we will be guided by 501 C3 laws.

dreamer photoBy not engaging in public policy and advocacy work, we are not fully fulfilling our vision of Empowering everyone to live their American dream which at times requires removing barriers or creating bridges.

In the weeks and months to come, we will begin to increase our communication on policy issues, you will receive information on advancing specific policies and you will see greater involvement by our clients in effecting changes that will benefit them, their families, our whole community and our nation.

Thank you for being part of the HUF Family. And we look forward to working with you and others to be an even greater “Force for Good.”

Josie Bacallao

President & CEO

Hispanic Unity of Florida, Inc.

P.S.  In the weeks ahead, we will increase our communication on issues such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and DACA for Dreamers (young children brought to the U.S.). If you are interested in volunteering your time for these projects – or other HUF programs – we would love to hear from you.

Click here to complete this simple form and we’ll reach out to you.

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35 Years of Impact: After reaching her dream, Gladys turned to helping others achieve theirs

Gladys - Interview

Gladys Obando came to the United States from Panama at sixteen years old, leaving behind her family and everything she knew. While they stayed in close touch – joyfully celebrating everything from birthdays to Gladys’ high school graduation by phone – she was alone to find her way in a new country.

Meanwhile, the community at HUF was present for her, helping Gladys realize that there are no limits to what she could achieve. After being referred to HUF by the Hepburn Center, she received help filing her taxes through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at HUF. This completely free service helps clients find extra tax credits and maximize their refunds, channeling money back to the people who need it most.

With HUF at her side, Gladys refused to give up while pursuing her goals, trying again & again each time she experienced a setback. Soon, she became a volunteer so that she could help others on their journey to independence and prosperity. After earning completing extensive IRS training and receiving her Tax Preparation Certificate, Gladys joined HUF’s staff for the VITA program. Over time, HUF has become not just her employer, but her family.

In striving for our own versions of the American dream, we are stronger together. Programs like VITA, which offers services in five different languages, supports diverse families and households. Like other HUF programs, VITA is powered by the generosity of donors and volunteers who believe in the future we can build together.

Read more anniversary celebration stories in our blog!

>> Earlier this year, Ana Maria Ceballos, HUF’s VITA Coordinator, and Gladys talked about the VITA program with the Univision 23 Miami. Click here to watch the interview in Spanish (fast-forward to minute 16:05).

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The Broward County Bar Association recognizes Josie Bacallao, HUF’s President & CEO with the Liberty Bell Award

Liberty Bell

Joining Josie for the luncheon were former and current HUF Board Members.
L-R (Back) Christina Paradowski, Board Member; Willy Gomez, Board Chair; Nydia Menendez, Board Member Emeritus; Chuck Tatelbaum, Chair-Elect; (front) Josie Bacallao, CEO; Maria Elena Ferrer, Board Member Emeritus; Catalina Avalos, HUF Attorney (Tripp Scott) and former Board Member; Juan Carlos Arias, Former Board Member. Not pictured were Hyram Montero and Rae Chorowski both Board Member Emeritus.

On Friday, May 5, the Broward County Bar Association recognized Josie Bacallao, HUF’s President & CEO with the Liberty Bell Award. She was nominated by Judge Melanie May.

Liberty Bell Award – This nationally recognized award is bestowed on a non-attorney individual or community organization who has promoted a better understanding of the law, encouraged a greater respect for the law and the courts, who stimulates a sense of civic responsibility, and who contributes to good government within the community.

Below are comments made by Josie Bacallao when she accepted the award.

“It is deeply meaningful to me to be associated with the Liberty Bell which not only represented FREEDOM to a new nation — but it has also been a symbol to those fighting to end slavery and later, to gain civil rights.

It is a reminder that freedom is not easy. Freedom is not free.

And, that it is important to remind ourselves that America is a nation of values, founded on an idea: that all men and women are created equal.

Those are the values that make me proud to call myself an American and the reason the United States is known throughout the world as a beacon of freedom and opportunity.

My own personal history drew me to an organization that in my mind is also linked to another powerful American symbol – Our Gray Lady, Mother of Exiles – the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Our agency’s work is to welcome newcomers to our country and guide them on their often difficult, but always hopeful, life-long process of learning what it means to be an American.

We are their guides to their American dream.

But for many aspiring Americans, the road can be long and difficult and full of challenges – from language barriers to navigating our complex health care system.

For 35 years, HUF has empowered more than 400,000 children and families in South Florida with English language instruction, classes to become U.S. citizens, guidance on how to start businesses and become financially strong.

And today we serve individuals in four languages from 25 countries who reflect the full spectrum of diversity in South Florida.

When aspiring citizens have access to the tools needed to succeed, they make great contributions to our communities. They boost our tax base, open businesses, create jobs, and add to the cultural diversity that makes our country unique and makes us stronger.

That is the work that we do. It is deeply grounded in the best of American values and American history.

But I must tell you the incredible outcome of this award is to discover I have a full table of friends who are attorneys.

Let me introduce to you HUF’s past and current board members who are here today – two bankers joined them too just to mix things up.

Chuck Tatelbaum, Hyram Montero, Rae Chorowski, Juan Carlos Arias, Catalina Avalos, Nydia Menendez & Christina Paradowski.  And our board chair Willy Gomez and Board Emeritus, Maria Elena Ferrer.

Thank you, my friends, for your heart and your service to HUF and our community.

In closing, I invite you for a tour of HUF. I promise you will leave inspired – if not a little buzzed from the espresso (Cuban coffee) we make.

Our agency works hard to make the American dream accessible – but keeping the dream alive is work that we must all do.

 Thank you for this beautiful recognition.

 I promise you that I will continue to work very, very hard to live up to the award.”

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by Maria Sanjuan – Part 2 (Conclusion)

Click here to read PART 1 of this story.

Maria Sanjuan portrait

“As HUF began to expand, it became clear that we needed a larger space. With much convincing, the City of Hollywood Commissioners agreed to help us purchase our very first building – an old social security office. We finally had a home of our own! This is where HUF resides to this day.”

Working from a larger space gave us stability, but the job was far from complete. We needed more money and leadership, so we launched HispanicFest in 1987. Despite being rained out on our first attempt, the event became a resounding success. We had streams of cars and long lines of people in the streets to enter the park for the first event; we were so proud. Later, we launched a gala as well. While HUF’s work was still a monumental task, it felt like things were beginning to fall into place.

New Obstacles Emerge

Unfortunately, we still couldn’t afford to pay a CEO with the talent and experience we needed, and new challenges began to emerge. In addition, the census only reported a small number of Hispanics, so we lacked representation.

At this time, the board actually considered closing HUF’s doors. We were being pushed to the edge, and after years of hard work, it was very painful. Thankfully, supporters and members of the board volunteered to run the organization for years, and that helped us pull through.

A Critical Time

The turning point finally came when I applied for a United Way grant, and they funded one of our programs! Finally, our mission was getting the recognition it deserved. We also received support at the county level through Dan Schevis, and soon thereafter from the Community Foundation of Broward.

Other private non-governmental entities eventually joined the cause, including Mr. and Mrs. Moran and JM Family Enterprises (they later created The Jim Moran Foundation), who are always very much in tune with the needs of the community. I am especially, deeply grateful to them and JM Family. Their funding and support represented “the seal of approval” and recognition from a private corporation.

Dreams Come True

maria sanjuan and josieHUF’s 35th anniversary feels like the realization of my dream. I’ve had many challenges as a business woman and as a professional in a male-dominated world – but HUF’s mission was as important to me as my own family. I dedicated countless hours to making this organization a success and it paid off. I have deep faith in God and I know the many blessings I’ve received.

When I invited Josie Bacallao to be part of the Board many years ago (she’s served as CEO since 2004), I believed in her tenacity, passion and know-how to carry out the mission of HUF for years to come.

HUF is proof that the only thing people need is guidance. Show them the way, and they will succeed. I know this because that’s what I – and the rest of the HUF team – have been doing for three-and-a-half decades, with incredible, life-changing results. No matter what, never give up!

– The End –

Click here to read PART 1 of this story.


Maria Sanjuan has served on the boards of many organizations in Broward, including United Way, the Community Foundation of Broward, the Museum of Art, and the Red Cross, among others. She continues to help place people in jobs, and is currently advocating for women’s issues, including human trafficking in South Florida.

sanjuan family

HUF was privileged to be the recipient of philanthropy from Maria’s daughter, Elizabeth Sanjuan, and Ken Brown, her husband.  Their generosity allowed HUF to complete an education center which was renamed in their honor as Casa Sanjuan Education Center. Their gift also supports the Unity 4Kids Preschool and the Center for Working Families Program.

sanjuan center sign

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by Maria Sanjuan – Part 1 of 2

A New Immigrant

Maria Sanjuan portrait“As a philanthropist, I believe in creating opportunities for others – in fostering a sense of empowerment. In essence: teach someone to fish so they’ll never go hungry. This is what Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) is all about – and this is HUF’s story.”

I arrived in Broward County in 1960, one of a few Hispanic families in the area. In the years that followed, I worked hard to become a part of the community, and established myself in a successful sales career.

Over time, I witnessed the struggles of others like myself, and did my best to help them integrate. I provided translations, legal referrals, whatever people needed. One thing was clear: immigrants needed somewhere to turn.

Advocates Unite

It all began in 1983 at a “cocktail party.” This unconventional gathering was held at a real estate office in Davie, a modest spot in a mall populated with Hispanic-owned businesses. The informal meeting included seven or eight other people who were tirelessly devoted to helping refugees. I immediately recognized the magnitude of their cause, and I knew this was a group I had to be a part of.

These dedicated advocates shared that they had hundreds of people who needed their help – but no money or resources. I dove in, eager to help. After many attempts, we finally secured a $30K grant from the refugee program, run by Broward County Human Services Division and led by Ellen Rodriguez, an American woman married to a Cuban. The funds supported two part-time employees – and HUF was officially off the ground.

Helping Refugees in Need

Our first task was to find work for the Marielitos, the mass emigration of Cubans in 1980; their number had reached over 100,000 in Miami. Many came to us for help with job opportunities, but we quickly discovered that other basic needs were going unmet. HUF was still struggling with funding and leadership. I was impatient, as I remembered all too well what it was like to be alone in a new place, surviving on 10 cent Royal Castle hamburgers.

There was still so much fear, and very little acceptance of Hispanics. Cubans had no home to return to, and they needed us. Refugees did not know how to navigate the various systems of this country – the banking system, the health or school systems, the credit system, etc. Maybe we couldn’t place everyone in a job, but we could certainly provide support by helping them with basic tasks. My stubbornness wouldn’t let me give up; I was inspired to make HUF succeed!

Bound and Determined

At the time, the Hispanic population in Broward County was being overlooked, and most of the funding for refugees went to Miami-Dade. I set out to visit the county and area cities, determined to advocate for the plight of new immigrants. It took patience and a lot of compassion, but with time we gained some stability.

One major victory came when HUF started teaching ESL – English as a Second Language. Many critics pointed at Hispanics as not wanting to learn English, but we proved otherwise. All they needed was a tool! We quickly enrolled a large number of students, which brought us to the attention of the school board, which started supporting us.

Finally, we started to grow!

READ PART 2 (Conclusion) of this story. 

Watch Maria Sanjuan, HUF’s Driver of Growth In Action (Released in 2012)

About Maria Sanjuan

maria sanjuan and josieFew individuals have had as deep and lasting impact on the success of HUF as Maria Sanjuan.

An articulate, passionate visionary who, with rolled up sleeves and perfectly coifed hair and make-up, took on every challenge thrown her way. She was instrumental in laying the foundation of HUF’s board governance, she launched every fundraiser that sustained the agency for more than 20 years and served on its board for the first two decades of its existence.

No one has given so meaningfully, selflessly and for so long. Our debt to her is immeasurable. She has been my personal inspiration and mentor for the past 18 years. She is the reason I am at HUF. She is the reason why many of us are at HUF.

Enjoy this first-hand account of HUF’s history by our most important history-maker and storyteller, Maria Sanjuan.

-Josie Bacallao, CEO & President, Hispanic Unity of Florida

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Eugenio R. Torres, Founder of Hispanic Unity

Disclaimer: Excerpt from a more detailed writing of Eugenio’s life.
Translated and edited at HUF in 2017. Contributing Editor: Ashley Collier – HUF volunteer.


“One day, upon my arrival in Broward County,
I felt very lonely, and so did many other people.
It was difficult to adapt to life in Florida. Hispanics did not have
much political influence (if any) and everything was difficult for us.”

In the 1980s in Florida, on Saturdays and Sundays, people would approach me to ask for my help in creating an agency that could defend their rights. They had heard about my previous work and the agencies I had founded, but I refused to do it. The pressure became such that, on one such Sunday, accompanied by a group of friends at home, I formed what is, today, Hispanic Unity of Florida Inc. (HUF). Among those friends were co-founders Miriam Ruiz, José Rodríguez, Ajenol Fernández, María Rivera, and Eduardo Pagan. Sometime after we had already begun our work, the priest of the local San Isidro Catholic Church gave us sixty dollars to incorporate the new agency. Since the population we served was so diverse, we decided that the word Unity was appropriate for the name.

We soon began meeting with politicians at local, state and federal levels, which was a great help in getting HUF off the ground. I took a position serving on the Board of Catholic Charities. Because San Isidro was the only Hispanic church in the county, and the central meeting place for Hispanics, I was able to access funds for community assistance, such as buying food for the poor. For this I owe so much to Dr. William Stone, a dedicated community activist, who lent his time and effort to our cause.

Back then, there was a newspaper called El Heraldo de Broward, which helped us to spread the news of our work and mission. Both English and Spanish newspapers were interested in what we were doing. In the early days of HUF, we operated from my office at the Henderson Clinic. We held our meetings there in the evenings. All of us at the agency were there as volunteers, with day jobs, but our labors saw great fruits: More and more people began to join us, and new leadership developed as we worked to benefit the community, helping anyone who needed our services.

Community service can be challenging. Between 1980 and 1982, amid constant criticism despite their great effort and accomplishments, most community leaders did not last more than a year. Much of their great work went unnoticed, and they were met with insults and harsh critiques. To acknowledge these leaders and encourage their continued work on behalf of our community, we decided to celebrate their contributions.

One Saturday night, we held a ceremony to present plaques of recognition to all who worked in the cause of building a better community. More than 500 people attended, including local, state, and federal government officials. That night, we knew that we were officially on the map of Broward County, Florida. A Congressman, seated next to me, noticed a lady crying. He asked me what was happening, and I explained the sad poem that was being recited in Spanish. The Congressman, who sometimes refused to listen to us in our language, told me, “Eugenio, it is regretful that I don’t speak Spanish so we can understand each other better.”

Founder, Eugenio Torres (right) with early board volunteer, Manny Baerga, City of Hollywood Police and  Diana Wasserman Rubin, former Broward County Commissioner

The political mindsets of many people of power had begun to change. The struggle for this was not easy, but we started to see results; our efforts paid off. At every level, our community was gaining recognition as one being integrated into the welfare of this great nation.

Soon after, with the assistance of our dear friend José (Pepe) Lopez, we at HUF, decided to hold the first Broward County Hispanic convention. Mr. Eduardo Pagan presented a proposal to IBM, that contributed $4,500 to producing the event. With the success of the weekend-long convention, and the respect of people in power on our side, it was clear that Hispanic Unity of Florida Inc. was here to stay. For our dynamic community, this was only the beginning.

Thank you for coming this far! We hope you enjoyed Eugenio’s story.

We now invite you to watch Eugenio’s video interview>> Compliments of Comcast


The “Ellis Island” for new immigrants arriving in South Florida, Hispanic Unity celebrates 35 years of Empowering a New Generation of Americans.

Eugenio Torres is now 75 years young. He is writing his memoirs and continues his work in the community he so deeply loves.

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Thank you & Farewell Dream-Makers

Imagine a workplace where you are offered a smile when you enter, no matter what is going on. Where teamwork and “selflessness” are not mere words. Hispanic Unity is such a place. It’s an organization with team members who join us because they share our values and believe in our movement: to keep the American dream alive.

It is difficult to identify two exceptional individuals among the many incredibly dedicated and talented team members at HUF. We are 175 strong.

But two HUF colleagues, Lucienne Brutus and Angelica Hernandez stand out. Lucienne joined HUF 10 years ago and Angelica seven.

382_2011hufgala_img_6993And, they are bidding HUF farewell.

Today on Thanksgiving Day Week we give thanks for having known and worked side by side with Lucienne and Angelica. We thank them for their selfless service. We thank them for all they have given of themselves to our clients and our community.

And, we also are joyful for both of them.

Prior to joining the HUF team Lucienne worked at the American Embassy in her island of birth, Haiti. She speaks four languages. She has a law degree. Lucienne has led HUF’s Center for Working Families program which is a based on a national model to assist clients to become self-sufficient. She was instrumental in launching the program and in making it what it is today.

Angeimg_00000503lica has been the face of HUF for many years now. She is the one our clients call at HUF – and on her personal phone – when they are desperate. Angelica is our front desk case manager and our also is part of the family strengthening team.

Both have many things in common – but  one attribute stands out: Both often visit me and whisper in my ear – “this is a very difficult case, I think you should get involved.” What that means is this, “I need you to get the whole community involved.” And we do. We mobilize everyone – other HUF team members, board members, past board member and committee members, our funders, partners and donors. Together we triage the most intractable situations.

Neither of these two individuals ever, ever, ever says NO. The most hesitation you will hear is, “let me think about this one.”

Moving Forward

Lucienne returns to the home she left more than 10 years ago and will rejoin her physician husband who never left Haiti. Her future remains open to new opportunities.

Angelica will be working for the government. A mom of three – also caring for her ill mom – has a dream of buying a home. Her new job – with greater earning potential and great benefits – will ensure that she reaches that dream.

On this Thanksgiving Day Week we give thanks that HUF is a place where individuals like Lucienne and Angelica feel welcomed and empowered to help thousands on their journey to their dream. And that HUF is also a place where two exceptional women were able to create their own dreams.

It is now their turn to take flight and to live their American dream.

Merci beaucoup mes amies – abrazo a las dos.

My friends, thank you very much. A big hug to you both.

Your colleagues and friends at HUF send you off with much love and gratitude and with the reassurance that HUF houses many other dream makers inside its American dream-making machine.

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