The Latino Institute: A program of the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department
When providing services to individuals of Latin American descent living in the U.S., service agencies whether public or private are faced with three overarching issues: the dramatically growing population, the different values and cultures based on their heritage and levels of acculturation, and the different life contexts which influence their needs. Taken together, these issues suggest a more comprehensive effort is needed to effectively service this population.
Within the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, the Latino Institute was developed to help address these issues and to serve as a bridge between the City and the Latino community. Today, the Latino Institute produces numerous programs for the community and serves as an outreach specialist that provides special events, networking, and cultural competency expertise to the City and agencies which aim to provide services to the Latino community. Over the past 12 years, the Latino Institute has gained a number of insights which have helped their program to succeed where others have not. These four key insights will be discussed in this blog.
First, the importance of partnerships is paramount. Approximately 80% of the Latino Institute budget is funded via sponsorship and programming fees with the remaining funds coming from the City of Phoenix. Funding through the City has fluctuated over the years, but is often provided in-kind through office space and other resources. During the most difficult financial times at the City of Phoenix, these partners provided the support the Latino Institute needed to survive the most recent economic depression. However, partners help not only through their financial resources, but also through the volunteers they may provide and the added social network value they produce. The Latino Institute produces large special events which draw thousands of participants, such as El Día de los Niños and the City of Phoenix Back to School and Health Fair, and volunteer support, often through these partners, is vital to the implementation of these events.
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Second, understanding the community with all its diversity and needs is critical. Meaningfully engaging with the community helps to ensure a better understanding of the community. Two ways in which the Latino Institute does this is through continuous engagement with the community in various recreation programs and through plenary sessions which are embedded into their annual Back to School and Health Fair. Through these interactions, the Latino Institute has found that translation of material into both English and Spanish helps to reach a larger number of individuals, but translation of material should not be viewed as the “fix” to making a program accessible to individuals of Latin American descent. If the content of the program is not meaningful to the group of people it is meant to reach, an agency can translate program material into any language, and it will not be effective.
Third, maintaining a high level of trust in the eyes of both the community and the City has facilitated in the growth and sustainability of the Latino Institute program. The Latino Institute developed a relationship of trust with the community by listening to them, implementing programs that reflected their needs, maintaining a high level of service, and following through on commitments.
Lastly, the Latino Institute currently maintains two staff members dedicated to the program and works with an executive board which provides them guidance. Given the small number of staff the Latino Institute maintains and the many initiatives they pursue, having a strategic plan which is monitored by an executive board has helped to focus Latino Institute efforts and maximize their limited resources. The strategic plan is revisited annually by the executive board and is a living document which is dynamic and intensive enough to meet various community needs.
Ariel Rodríguez is an assistant professor at ASU in the School of Community Resources and Development. Dr. Rodríguez’s research focuses on youth of Latin American descent, community recreation, and quality of life.