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Smaller El Pueblo forges ahead

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Ret Boney

RALEIGH, N.C. – Despite the departure of its executive director and a major decline in fundraising, El Pueblo’s mission and direction remain intact, says Pablo Escobar, one of the organization’s interim leaders.

Escobar, who has been on the organization’s board for five years, is one of a three-member team that has replaced Tony Asion, who left the post of executive director in May.

El Pueblo, a Raleigh-based advocacy and public-policy group that works to strengthen the state’s Hispanic community, now is led by Escobar, Florence Siman, the health program director, and Cecilia Saloni, the public safety director.

The group plans to launch a search for a new executive director this fall, Escobar says.

The leadership changes came during a year of financial hardship for El Pueblo, with individual fundraising coming in $30,000 short of its goal of $40,000 and sponsorships reaching just $70,000 of the $220,000 goal, he says.

The group’s revised budget for this year stands at about $930,000, down from about $1.3 million in 2009, and staff is down from 15 to 10, in part due to budget constraints and in part due to the completion of grant-funded projects.

One of the positions eliminated was El Pueblo’s the advocacy director, which is funded by the unrestricted dollars raised from individuals and corporate sponsorships.

The grant-funded advocacy coordinator remains, but the bulk of the organization’s advocacy work has been put on hold.

“El Pueblo is having to take a back seat in its advocacy efforts,” says Escobar. “We just don’t have the resources or personnel to do that anymore.”

That leaves a hole in the public-policy capabilities of the state’s Hispanic community, which for years has looked to El Pueblo and its capital-city base as an organizing force.

The organization aims to bring back the director-of-advocacy position as soon as finances allow, says Escobar, but does not know when that will be.

And while the loss of advocacy power comes just when the immigration debate is heating up, Escobar believes true progress is as much about changing hearts as it is about changing laws, he says.

“There’s more to it than just doing advocacy work,” says Escobar. “It’s about building a cultural understanding so that people of color are not dehumanized, so they are not seen as a threat but as a great contributor to the American experience.”

With that in mind, the organization’s premier culture-bridging event, the 17th annual La Fiesta del Pueblo, will go on as planned Sept. 11 and 12 at the North Carolina State Fairgounds.

And all of El Pueblo’s health and public-safety programs, which are supported by grant funds, will continue, says Escobar.

That includes its domestic-violence prevention and assistance efforts, as well as its push to promote seat-belt and car-seat use and cut down on drinking and driving.

It also will continue its program for early detection and treatment of breast cancer and its leadership-development programs for youth.

“Our mission remains the same — to provide information to the Hispanic community about the way things are done here and to help them become stable, healthy, strong families,” says Escobar. “And we continue to inform people about the immigrant experience in the U.S.  We want common understanding.”

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