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.

Posted in 35th Anniversary Stories | 4 Comments

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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Earn It. Keep It. Grow It.

This is Part 2 of two-part blog on Financial Health in honor of Financial Literacy Month.

Ideally, by now you have given your financial goals a little thought (see previous blog post). You may have had some quiet time with yourself; you may have discussed it with your family or you may have gone as far as writing your goals down with a timeframe. Any time you dedicate to thinking and talking about this will pay off.

Sorting out where you want to be – or DON’T want to be — is the first step of this journey.

So here are the next steps you’ll need to take to get to your destination.

Step 1: Imagine it.

Step 2: Earn it.

Generating sufficient income to allow you to become financially stable is a key part of the equation. You can either secure a job or create your own by becoming a small business owner. Below are some key resources that will help you determine which career direction is best for you.

DPP_5846 - Copy - CopyCareerSource Broward – A one-stop for all your employment needs. Professional and unemployed? There’s a special program just for you.

SCORE – National non-profit organization run by existing or former business owners. They help you determine if starting a small business is right for you and how to go about doing it. If you prefer your classes in Spanish, check us out. For the local Broward County chapter, click here

VITA – Save money on tax preparation fees. If you made under $54,000 this year, this may be the right place for you to get your taxes prepared by IRS-Certified volunteers.

Visit HUF and inquire about joining the Center for Working Families program where we walk you through this whole process.

Step 2: Keep It.

I love this quote from Wayne Huizenga,

“It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.”

The quote is about Florida not having personal income tax, but it is also applied to our personal  financial wellbeing. If you spend less than you earn, you save more. You keep more.

Think about it. If you DON’T buy something you do NOT need, you save money. IF you don’t pay finance charges on an unpaid credit card, you SAVE money. If YOU reduce your expenses, you SAVE money. So, KEEPING more of you money by being smarter in how you spend it allows you to keep more of it!

This is where we think the greatest opportunity lies for most of us.

In learning how to manage the money we already have.

How to manage our cash flow – when money comes in and when money goes out.

And creating a safety net – to ensure you have BOTH a short-term emergency cushion as well as, savings for your longer term goals such as purchasing a car, a home, retirement or your child’s education.

Here are some Money Management Tips to get you started: (Below are links to resources to  help you go through these steps):

  1. Create a detailed budget:  
    • Keep track of every penny you spend
    • Stick to your budget and review it on a weekly basis 
  2. Create a savings account for emergencies:
    • Deposit in a savings account at least $25 a month – every penny DOES count!
    • Pay yourself first – ask your employers to deposit a percentage of your paycheck in a savings account every time you get paid
  3. Pay off high-cost debt (this refers mainly to CREDIT CARDSmoney-card-business-credit-card-50987
  4. Be smart with your tax refund
    • Pay down your debt (Pay off those money-draining credit cards!)
    • Save at least half of your tax refund (in short term or long-term savings)

Here’s a great website that will help you immensely in doing all of the above.

Step 4: Grow It.

Americans cannot be financially mobile without being financially secure.

This step is an outgrowth of Steps 1-3.

What are your long-term goals? The ONLY way to become financially secure – and eventually obtain financial mobility is to GROW your money.

You do that through something called assets. The most traditional ways to this are to purchase a car, a home, invest in retirement or in school/education.

Below are some idea starters of what assets you can invest in and links to valuable resources:

Savings: Where to find the best savings rates to grow your monthly savings account such as Money Market accounts or Certificates of Deposit.

You can compare rates by using this site the BankRate website.


Are you ready to retire? Take advantage of the tax season and open a ROTH IRA. It has never been so easy with a minimum of $2.00 and ZERO fees to open a retirement account. Go to and open a ROTH IRA and take advantages of the tax benefit it provides.

First-time Homebuyers:

pexels-KeysBuying a house may be one of the biggest financial transactions of your life. It is extremely important to be informed about the whole process. Important steps to follow:  

  1. Attend a first time homebuyer’s seminar (we offer them at HUF);
  2. Do your homework and find out what cities are offering First-time Homebuyers’ financial assistance;
  3. Key Question you need to answer: How much can money I afford? Obtain a prequalification from a financial institution that way you know and they will answer the second important question: How much house can you afford to buy?

Creating a financial plan – like all things that are worth it – takes time and effort.  The good news is that you can obtain many of your goals if you are clear on where  you want to go and are disciplined in following your own plan. 

Good luck on your journey!

P.S.  If you find you need a little more support to get through this process, HUF may be able to assist you. Our Center for Working Families program – may be of help to you. We have a team  of terrific professions who can guide you ever step of the way.  

Give us a call and we’ll walk you through the requirements and determine if you are eligible and if this program is the right fit for you. You can all us at 954-964-8884, ext. 216.


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Keys to Financial Stability

How do you define being ‘financially ahead’?

We believe that knowing where you want to end up on your financial journey is a step you cannot skip. Here’s some old wisdom:  if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

And it’s a conversation most of us need to have.

Nationally 50% of Americans report feeling insecure financially.
80% of us have less than a month-worth of savings.

Figuring your journey’s ultimate destination is perhaps one of the toughest steps we must take. And, of course, it can – and it will – change with life’s many changes and adventures. So, it’s a question we must ask ourselves when we’ve reached our goals or when life throws at us an unexpected opportunity – or challenge.

And it’s the first of four steps you may want to consider during April which happens to be Financial Literacy Month.

Step 1: Imagine It.

To start you off on the big question, read Michelle Signatory column on the topic. (She was our inspiration for this first step).

Write it down. Talk it over with your loved ones and even your friends. Depending on who you are, your goals may be ambitious or conservative. Are they realistic? You will have a better sense of what it will take to get where you want to go once you have a plan. Once you start putting numbers on paper you will have a better idea of how long it will take you to reach your financial destination.

In the next blog post we will share with you a financial model that was created by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and which HUF uses called Center for Working Families.

The ideas are simple – but not necessarily easy: First you maximize your ability to generate income; second you keep as much of the money you make as possible; and third, you grow your money growing your assets.

The four steps to your financial journey are:

Step 1: Imagine It.

Step 2: Earn It.

Step 3: Keep It.

Step 4: Grow It.

Strap yourself in and let’s start this journey.plan - Copy

Step 1, you already know – take the time to imagine and plan where you want to go.

Stay tuned for the next installment.


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All Eyes on the Supreme Court

the-american-dream-tOn April 18th, eight members of the Supreme Court heard 90 minutes of oral arguments on what is known as DACA and DAPA.

The White House’s representatives argued in favor of expanding an already existing program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which gives temporary relief to immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. We know them as Dreamers.

The second part of today’s Supreme Court argument was based on the implementation of DAPA, which would grant a reprieve from imminent deportation to  the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent resident children.

In both cases the relief would be temporary.

These individuals would be allowed to work and in most states to obtain a driver license.

But since we do NOT have immigration reform this relief can be reversed at any time by the President. This is what is called executive action but it is not law. Only Congress with the President’s signature on a bill can make immigration reform a reality.

By June 30th  the Justices will decide the fate of more than 5 million undocumented immigrants who would be impacted by this reprieve.

How did we get to the Supreme Court?

A lawsuit filed by Texas to stop the President from implementing DACA and DAPA.

Florida joined Texas in this lawsuit. Check out this blog for more background on the situation.

What do Americans think?

MOST Americans believe that deportation is NOT a realistic option.

A Pew Research Center Poll  underscored (again) how realistic and generous the American people can be.

72% of Americans said “undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in this country legally…”

That number increased to 76% in a more recent poll just last week.

What impact will DAPA and DACA have?

While the legal battle ensues, we must remember that these actions have a real human cost. A ruling against DAPA won’t just impact immigrant families; it’ll impact ALL families.

The immigration initiatives would improve the lives of American children and families, create jobs, expand the GDP and add billions to our tax coffers.

For Florida, implementing executive action will have a very strong positive impact on our state’s finances:

Taxes:  Additional $17 million in taxes for Florida

Cumulative increase in state GDP:   $9,426,000,000

Cumulative increases in earnings of all state residents: $6,226,000,000

Average annual number of jobs created:   1,180

Millions of families continue to live in legal limbo, in constant fear of separation, and without any certainty as to when they might be able to live without that fear. Millions of US citizen children will be directly impacted because their parents won’t be able to come forward for this temporary relief from deportation, support their families and contribute even more to our country.

The ultimate answer is for our elected officials to do what three quarters of Americans already support – find a way to legalize immigrants so they can continue to contribute to the prosperity of this great nation.

In the meantime, through executive action 5 million immigrant families could get a reprieve and for up to three years come out of the shadows.

Now we wait. If the decision is a split court amongst the eight judges, the current lower court decision stands. And 5 million people will remain in the shadows until Congress decides to address immigration, or until we have a ninth Justice or until we have a new president.

More uncertainty. More broken families. The American dream on hold.





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Fox Executive teaching English

Last year we received an email from someone who was moving to Fort Lauderdale and wanted to volunteer. Dermot McQuarrie

Thus begun our friendship with Dermot McQuarrie, a former Fox Sports executive (Executive Producer of Fox Sports Americas and General Manager for the Fox Soccer Channel.) He now runs his consultancy company from Fort Lauderdale. Dermot is originally from Scotland. He  has lived and worked around the world.

Dermot relocated from California where he volunteered at the Mecca Elementary school to help the children of the field workers improve their English language skills. He was hooked.

This week Dermot began a 10-week class with 10 HUF clients who are learning English. We purchased inexpensive tablets. The students are learning English on a web-based software called Duolingo. (Once the students learn the basics, we will transition them to our onsite English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESL) class which is offered by Broward County Public Schools at HUF for the past 20+ years.)

20160229_182859This is what he had to say about his first class:

“I was delighted with our first night and the enthusiasm of the parents who attended. All of them have a little understanding of English and that’s good but more importantly is that they want to learn more. We have decided that once they walk in to the conference room we only speak English! – well unless there is something that they just can’t put over in English.

The first thing we went over was that there is no ‘verguenza’ in not being able to explain themselves in English and that ‘confidence’ is what we will also be learning. They are all delighted with that. I explained also that learning English will help them and also very importantly their children. All the students took to the course very well and actually one parent has it on her cell phone! Finally I want to say that I consider it a privilege and an honor to help the parents and thank you for allowing me to be part of this process.” 

In a world where fear appears to dominate our discourse and many are calling for the building of walls, it is wonderful to encounter someone who possess such generosity of spirit and respect for other human beings.

Dermot is such a person and, he is enthusiastic about a different engineering structure. He enjoys building bridges.

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