35 Years of Impact: The Power of Community

The Community Unites to Make Life Comfortable for Grandma, Charnecia, and Marqis

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Earlier this year at HUF… Together, Grandma Gwendolyn, Charnecia and Marqis are a close-knit family. Gwendolyn has long since cared for the children as her own. But recently, hardship struck the household.

The lease on the family’s home was rejected for renewal. They had been living in the hot South Florida weather with no air conditioning, and the house desperately needed repairs. Though Grandma Gwendolyn was able to find a new place to live, the family was without furnishings or even beds to sleep on.

Luckily, Charnecia and Marquis were enrolled in Hispanic Unity’s Unity 4Teens Afterschool and Summer school Program at McNicol Middle School. Grandma Gwendolyn shared their needs with the school, and through Hispanic Unity, the family was able to get new beds, dressers, and night tables courtesy of Channel 7 and El Dorado Furniture. Employees of Hispanic Unity also contributed with a dining table and living room furniture. They made the new house into a home!

Their future awaits: Charnecia dreams of being in law enforcement and Marqis wants to pursue a career in basketball, where his talent has already earned him many awards.

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Gwendolyn has shared her gratitude, saying: “We’re blessed, we’re just so happy and thankful to be able to sleep in comfortable beds, and thankful. I didn’t expect this, I want to cry but I want to be happy!”

That’s the power of community! Thank you to El Dorado Furniture and WSVN Channel 7 for making life comfortable for this family. We are all full of gratitude and joy because of your generosity. Bravo!

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Bank Executive: Why he supports “Dreamers”

Guest Columnist Luis G. Lobo is an executive in the banking industry.

Children are not held responsible for the actions of their parents.

In a free society, we long ago established that the actions of parents were not held against their children. Debtor courts may move against the assets of the parents, but not to the future assets or incomes of their children.  A child can not be charged with the crime committed by a parent as long ago stated in the bible: Ezekiel 18:20 tells us, “The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.”

Undocumented children brought into our country by their parents should NOT be removed against their will; given that they had no say in leaving their country of origin.  There are approximately 2 million such cases in the United States, 800,000 having been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals through the issuance of the U.S. Employment Authorization Card, a vetted federal I.D.

My brother and I were brought to the U.S. from Costa Rica in the early 1960’s. A third brother was born in the U.S. and then my mother suffered a post-partum depression, so she returned to Costa Rica, with now, three children. After a year of recovery, she reunited with my father and two more siblings were born in the US. We were finally able to reunite as a family in 1970, at which time my brother and I became the first two Latino students to ever set foot in the Lincoln County (NC) Public School System. We lost a brother to a rare lung decease, but four of five siblings hold college degrees and are working, contributing members to the society in which we live. We recently celebrated 50 years in America. It started with a man landing at JFK with $50 in his pocket, pursuing the American Dream. It was not achieved alone, it took the effort and the help of many people. A hand-up is not a hand-out.

Eventually we all became American Citizens, but one must understand, immigration is a very difficult and traumatic experience for a young person.  I recall crying myself to sleep knowing it could be many years until I saw my father as he worked to establish himself to bring his family to the US, then again, missing my grandparents and other family in Costa Rica upon permanently moving here.

America has been the beneficiary of the labor of those having been granted Deferred Action. These individuals were hired for their skills and future potential, not because they had been issued Deferred Action. In a full-employment economy, the challenge of every business today is for intellectual capital.  Maybe the U.S. economy can sustain the loss of these working young people.  Morally, this will be a collective stain on our sense of righteousness.

Americans are better than this.

Luis G. Lobo



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Dreamers: They are America’s Children

This is the only country most have ever known.

They speak English, and it’s often their main language.

They have one of the highest college completion rates – 85% – according to a recent study.

They serve in the armed forces or students.

They are lawyers, nurses, teachers and small business owners.

They are making significant contributions to our economy. And removing them will result in a DECREASE in GDP of $460 BILLION over the next decade.

They are some of the 800,000 Dreamers that are part of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) program whose fate will be determined, many believe, on September 5th.

And above all, they are our children, America’s children. They represent the best of our country – they want to contribute. They want to succeed professionally. They want to change the world.

And they want, above all, to stay and be given a shot at continuing to build their lives in the U.S.

And, on Sept. 5th  – the country they LOVE – the country they are willing to die for – their country – may turn them away.

Below are links to several recent editorials on why you should care and what you can do on their behalf.

The Moral Argument by Dr. Padron, President of Miami-Dade College

The Economic Argument By Tom K. Wong, Greisa Martinez Rosas, Adam Luna, Henry Manning, Adrian Reyna, Patrick O’Shea, Tom Jawetz, and Philip E. Wolgin


For now, the Trump Administration should allow DACA to remain in place by NOT rescinding this Executive Order. But the long term solution is for Congress to pass legislation that provides a permanent fix for these youth.

Below you can find out more information on the options, as well as talking points.

What you can do

Contact your Congressional Delegation– in particular Senator Rubio and ask him to support one of the several immigration bills that would provide support relief to the Dreamers OR ask the President to NOT rescind DACA!

Don’t wait. Make the call today – right now!

Thank you,

Josie Bacallao

P.S. If you support the Dreamers, you’re in good company. Eight out of every 10 Americans believe they should remain in the U.S. Remind your congressional representatives about this!


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35 Years of Impact: English classes and job training at HUF changed Tania’s and her children’s lives… for good!

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Times were tough for Tania Chinchilla when she first arrived in the U.S. in 2015. She and her two children had made the journey from Panama with only a limited grasp of the English language and no one to turn to in their new country.

Tania had to find a way to support her family; she needed help finding a career and a path forward.

Luckily, Tania heard about HUF, and joined the Bridge Program in August 2016. She immediately enrolled in Customer Service and Sales training, was awarded a scholarship to pay for the exam fee. She passed. Determined to build a better life, Tania also enrolled in the Bridge Program’s Bank Teller training in October 2016 – all while simultaneously taking English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.

While she successfully gained employment as a merchandise supervisor at Macy’s for the holiday season, Tania’s long-term goal was to work in a bank, just as she had in her native country of Panama.

Her hard work and HUF’s help paid off. On February 20, 2017, Tania informed HUF that she had secured employment at TD Bank as a bank teller. In her words: “I’m still in shock with the great news! I’m grateful to Hispanic Unity’s team for their dedication, passion and guidance. I will continue to do my best.”

Read more anniversary celebration stories in our blog!

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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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