Posted by: Latinos Progresando
February 7, 2012
Extra Bilingual Newspaper
by Deysi Cuevas | trad. Víctor Flores Published February 03, 2012
Latinos Progresando opened its doors on Jan. 15, 1998 in a small office in Pilsen. Before founding the organization, Executive Director Luis Gutierrez, states that he was unaware of how much people wanted to help others.
“I was just going about my day. What was important for me was going to work. I was an electrician at the time. It was very routine. I wasn’t really involved in any social justice work,” Gutierrez said.
That all changed when a friend asked him to volunteer at a citizenship workshop. After many attempts to get him to attend, Gutierrez finally succumbed and went to a workshop located two blocks from his house.
“When I walked in I saw, what is to this day, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was a gymnasium full of people. It was all these young, Mexican, Latino brothers and sisters helping out all these people that looked like my parents, who wanted to apply to become citizens of the United States. I had never experienced anything like that before. I had no idea what it was but it made me feel really good,” Gutierrez said.
After that experience, Gutierrez realized he wanted to help out more. He volunteered at Hermandad Mexicana Nacional every Saturday and was eventually offered a job. After a year, he was laid off due to the organization’s lack of funding so he started working at other places, including a Burger King.
“I loved working at Burger King for a number of reasons. They taught me a lot and they paid well, but I didn’t have that feeling I had when I walked into that gymnasium some years ago and so I put some money down on a spot on 18th street…and here we are, 14 years later with all these wonderful people,” said Gutierrez.
Latinos Progresando has come a long way since its inception. The organization started off small, helping people fill out citizenship applications. The community responded well, inspiring LP to expanded their services to green card renewals and petitions for family members. Their staff has assisted more than 20,000 clients with issues of legal permanent residency, citizenship, family petitions, domestic violence and to name a few.
Some of those clients have gone on to volunteer and work for the organization. In 2007, Christina Tabares, sought help from the organization to help with her paperwork to obtain residency.
“Marcy Gonzalez was my case worker and she told me everything that was going to happen,” Tabares said. “She was very helpful and I was very happy with the experience.”
Tabares is now a U.S. citizen and an accredited representative for LP and states that she now realizes everything the organization does and is happy she is in a position to help others.
“They have helped me through the whole process. From the very first time I entered through Latinos Progresando’s doors to remove my condition for my green card, to apply for my citizenship. Now that I’m a part of it, I know the purposes they have, which is to help the community at low cost and high quality because the organization is accredited,” she said.
Now, LP offers a variety of programs including a family-based immigration program, which helps individuals find out if they qualify for any type of family-based immigration benefit.
The Victim of Domestic Violence program helps victims, either men or women. The Violence against Women Act allows the victim to petition themselves and escape their abusers without losing their status. They also refer people to other organizations like Mujeres Latinas en Accion to make sure they get the counseling they need.
Teatro Americano is a theater group which works with young people in the community. Producing their first original work in 2004, the mission is to have youth tell the stories of what is going on in the community and put those stories on stage.
“The plays are free because a lot of times people in the Latino community don’t go to the theater, they don’t see [stories] about themselves and if you want to go to Steppenwolf or Goodman [theater], which are great, they cost money,” Gutierrez said. “My family’s priority wasn’t to go to the theater. [Their] priority was to make sure I had something to eat. So, we want to make it free and accessible to people in the community.”
LP also has a mural project that started last year, meant to transform what the community looks like by highlighting the Latino culture and giving people a new perspective of their neighborhoods.
Gutierrez was recently honored for excellence in community service from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“An award like the MALDEF award is given to an individual but is not really about the individual. The community award from MALDEF is about organizations and people that work in that organization. So, when I received the award, what I felt is that we had picked the right people to work here because there’s no way that I would have received that award without the contributions that everyone in this organization makes,” he said.
On Jan. 15, LP celebrated their 14th anniversary, coming a long way from the three-room office in Pilsen and constantly improving their programs to serve more people. Gutierrez states that they still have more plans for the advancement of Latinos Progresando.
“The need of services like ours and other non-profit [organizations] is increasing throughout the city, although the funding is not matching that, so it’s not really about improvement, it’s about how you reach more people and how do you try to increase your resources,” he said. “One of the things that would make me happy is to know that we continue to be effective.”
[Photo Credit] Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune
By Katherine Skiba and Lexy Gross
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