Latinx: Julia Rivera And Congreso Focus Mission For Latin Americans In Philadelphia
The nonprofit Congreso de Latinos Unidos serves Philadelphia’s Latino population and offers more than 50 programs, like health insurance education and enrollment sessions, support for seniors living independently and work readiness.
Congreso doesn’t have any services specifically focused on immigrants, but its website notes an increase in Latin American immigrants in the city and the population it serves. Julia Rivera, the nonprofit’s external affairs director, spoke about the way its services still benefit immigrants and Congreso’s recently updated mission statement.
These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What are some of Congreso’s services that seem to benefit immigrants?
We serve immigrants through all of our programs if they are interested. So, for example, at our federally qualified health center, we serve uninsured patients and we don’t particularly ask about status but obviously someone coming in could be an immigrant. Across the board, we are willing to serve immigrants. It could be anything from health services to domestic violence care and advocacy, supporting folks with language classes or our GED programs.
It’s hard to track exactly who is coming through our programs but in our last fiscal year, we served more than 19,000 unduplicated clients.
In January, Congreso released a new mission statement. What went into that decision, and what’s different now?
We’ve been around for 40 years, and our programming and our platform has evolved over time. We went through a process in January and talked about what we want our impact to be in the community. Our new mission statement talks about being economically self-sufficient and providing wellbeing to clients. We’ve broken that down to focus specifically on education and workforce development for economic self-sufficiency, and then for well-being, really focusing on health, housing and parenting.
That doesn’t mean that things that we currently do would not be part of Congreso moving forward. What we’re saying is that we will focus on developing and perfecting these programs.
(Ed. note- Rivera said it could take five to 10 years to nail down exactly what will be offered as a result of this shift in programming. Since the organization currently offers more than 50 programs, Congreso needs time to make final decisions, she added.)
At Congreso, are there ever internal discussions about offering a service specifically for immigrants?
When we talk about immigration services, I’m thinking concretely about specific services that would only apply to an immigrant. So, for example, whether it’s legal services or talking through visas or work permits. At this time, we really don’t have that expertise here, and we feel like we have partners and people in Philadelphia to refer these clients to.
What organizations may you refer people to?
How do people hear about Congreso — immigrant or non-immigrant?
While I’ve been here, which has been for almost a year, we haven’t had a specific strategy to target immigrants partly because we don’t have specific services based on their situation. For general outreach, we do participate in many community events. As you can imagine, summer’s really the season for those. We are out tabling quite frequently. We have marketing materials that we share digitally and physical materials that we’ll share with partners. We are marketing widely to populations that we feel like would benefit from our health services, which obviously includes immigrants. But after being around for 40 years, a lot of it is word of mouth.
-Text and images by Grace Shallow.