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Diana Rogel: A life of service

December 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Diana Rogel: A life of service

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-perico.com)

 

Diana ‘Ariss’ Rogel Mendoza

Diana Rogel

 

In the calling she feels to serve others, Diana Rogel of Omaha often addresses community needs.

“I feel like that is my reason for being here,” she said.

Rogel’s done tobacco prevention education in minority communities through UNMC’s Center for Reducing Health Disparities, She’s trained facilitators to dialogue with Latinos on sexual identity issues for a National Human Rights Campaign project, As ßLead Navigator-Program Specialist with the Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership, she informed underserved groups about affordable healthcare options.

Now, as Student Advocate with the Latino Center of the Midlands, she’s working with Ralston Public Schools in the Pathways to Success Program.

“I am part of an organization and a program that wants to be that bridge for students to use to get to the next level,” she said of her LCM position. “I am a mentor to students at Ralston High School. For me the absolute most important thing is that youth feel like there are people that care about them and will advocate for them.”

Growing up, Rogel didn’t seriously consider college since she didn’t see other Latinas following that path. That changed when an adult in her life encouraged her to try. It’s what she now does for youths.

“I get to work with students that may not (otherwise) see people that look like me at school. I think representation is very important for students – to see that people like them can be successful. I don’t necessarily just serve Latino students. I serve all types of students who may feel disconnected. As an adult mentor looking out for them, I create that sense of belonging and as a woman of color, I say, ‘Look, I’m successful, you can be, too.'”

Making a difference motivates her.

“Leaving things better than how I found them really satisfies me. I know I did a good job when I’m able to connect people and those relationships build and people utilizd services because of some part that I played.”

Many community projects she initially spearheaded continue going strong today, including outreach efforts at OneWorld Community Health Centers and the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition.

“It’s really comforting to have projects be taken up by  organizations. Then I can go onto my next thing knowing it’s in good hands.

“I’m always working on the next thing, the next project.”

The University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate recently enhanced her professional development as a New Leaders Council Leadership Institute fellow.

“The Institute looks for people in the community making an impact. We learned how to be better directors and supports of nonprofits and even to create more opportunities for others to lead, to follow and to mentor through entrepreneurship. We learned all these aspects that create progressive values and communities.

“We each took on a capstone project to implement in the community and see it through. My capstone is to create a youth conference that helps youth of color identify what their next steps are after high school, whether a four-year university or a two-year certification program or a vocational school. The conference will also get youth connected with resources in the community.”

She also wants to connect young Spanish-speakers to jobs-careers where dual language fluency is in demand.

Rogel’s working with LCM and partners to make the conference a reality in 2019.

“If I see a gap where things aren’t in place for youth to be successful, then I want to be a part of creating that for them. I take that to heart,” said the mother of two, “because if I pave the road for them, then when I’m old and gray they’re going to look out for me.”

A decade ago she noted Omaha lacked a young professionals network for Latinos, so she co-founded the Metro Young Latino Professionals Association.

“I took great pride in being able to form that group because we didn’t have anything like it and we had to create it from scratch. It has a huge membership today.”

This daughter of immigrant parents (her mother’s from Mexico and her father’s from El Salvador) grew up in Los Angeles. At 19 she moved to Omaha to be near her godmother and to pursue higher education.

“I really had a passion to learn more about my own culture and history. I helped reactivate the Latino student association on campus (UNO). My involvement got me noticed by the Office of Latino and Latin American Studies – OLLAS. I pretty much got recruited to be a part of that program.”

While a UNO student she worked as an OLLAS intern, went on a service learning trip to Peru and did field studies among Latinos in rural Nebraska communities.

“It made me realize the only way to help my community is to learn about it and to be a resource. That’s what I sought to do once I graduated – to build bridges and to get connected.”

Her role models include fellow Latinas Lourdes Gouveia, the former director of OLLAS, and community activist Marta Nieves.

Through Gouveia, Rogel said, “i’ve learned how to have tough conversations with people who feel disenfranchised and discriminated against.” Rogel said she’s inspired by the leadership Nieves shows and her ability “to bring people together.”

Rogel serves on the Nebraska Democratic Party’s Latinix Caucus board.

“Once I’m a little bit guided. I just take it and run.”

Looking ahead, she said, “I do see myself continuing to serve where I see gaps. I also see myself running a nonprofit that develops skills for youth, particularly in language.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

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Carolina Quezada leading rebound of Latino Center of the Midlands

May 3, 2012 1 comment

The organizations that make a difference in a community of any size are legion and I am always struck by how little I know about the nonprofits impacting people’s lives in my own city.  I often find myself assigned to do a story on such organizations and by the time I’m done I feel I have a little better grasp then I had before of what goes on day in and day out in organizations large and small that serve people’s social service and social justice needs.  One such institution is the Latino Center of the Midlands, which I profile here along with its executive director Carolina Quezada, who came on board last year in the midst of a tough time for the former Chicano Awareness Center.  She and I are happy to report the organization is back on track and that’s good news for the community it serves.

 Carolina Quezada leading rebound of Latino Center of the Midlands

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico

 

Carolina Quezada took the reins of the Latino Center of the Midlands last August in the wake of its substance abuse program losing funding, executive director Rebecca Valdez resigning and the annual fund raiser being canceled. Despite the travails, Quezada found a resilient organization.

Overcoming obstacles has been par for the course since community organizers started the former Chicano Awareness Center in 1971 to address the needs of underserved peoples. Its story reminds her of the community initiatives she worked for in her native East Los Angeles. She never intended leaving Calif. until going to work for the Iowa West Foundation in 2009. Once here, she found similar challenges and opportunities as she did back home.

“I’ve come full circle. I see so much of what I encountered growing up in L.A. which is parents with very low levels of education wanting their kids to succeed, graduate high school and go to college but often no plan to get them there.,” she says.

South Omaha is like this microcosm of East L.A. The moment I drove down 24th Street the first time I thought, This is like Whittier Blvd. I felt an instant connection. There’s so much overlap. This sense of close relationship with the grassroots, the sense of community, and how the organization has its beginnings in activism, in that voice of the community. It’s so indicative of how nonprofits in Latino communities have their base in the grassroots voice and in services and issues having to do with social justice.”

Forged as the center was in the ferment of unrest, she’s hardly surprised it’s persevered.

“I am pretty struck by how the agency continues to respond,. It’s always been responsive to what that emerging need is. I think it’s just an inherent part of its DNA.”

She acknowledges the center was rocked by instability in 2011.

“Currently we are in the process of trying to strengthen that stability. Last year was a very difficult year for the agency. There was a transition in leadership, there was funding lost. The agency was still operating but in a very low key way, and I give credit to the board members and staff in making sure the doors remained open. Their passion continues to drive what we do every day.

“One of our greatest core competencies is that love for community and that connection to our people. When people come through our doors they are greeted by people who look like them and speak their language. It’s their culture. I’m very proud the Latino Center keeps that piece very close to its heart.”

 

 

 

She says in this era of escalating costs and competition for scarcer resources, nonprofits like hers must be adaptable, collaborative and creative “to survive.

“There is much more a need to be strategic. It’s not just about being a charity. Now it’s about being an institution that takes on a lot more of the business model and looks at diversifying funding sources.”

In her view Nebraska offers some advantages.

“Because the economy is better here the environment for nonprofits is a little better. You have funders who are strong, engaged, committed and very informed. I think a lot of it has to do with the strength of their foundations and the culture of the Midwest. People really care about getting involved and building community.

“Last year was very tough. Not having the annual fundraiser really hurt the agency. But there’s been some renewed investment in the organization from funders. There is a very strong interest in collaborating with Latino Center of the Midlands from other organizations and funders and community leaders.”

Omaha’s come to expect the agency being there.

“Because of our 40-plus year history people know to come to us. We get a lot of walk-ins. We convene large groups of people here on a regular basis because of the wide array of classes we offer. We are still making an impact in parent engagement and basic adult education. We work with parents having a difficult time getting their kids to attend school on a regular basis.

“But we also deal with all sorts of other issues that come through our doors. We get requests for assistance with immigration, other legal issues, social services. We do referrals for all sorts of things. We’ve also started inviting partners to come offer their services here – WCA, OneWorld Community Health, UNMC’s Center for Health Disparities, Planned Parenthood. So we become a very attractive partner to other organizations that want to partner in the Latino community.

“We cannot do our work well if we’re not building strong partnerships with others.”

She says she and her board “are formulating some specific directions we want to take the organization in” with help from the Omaha Community Foundation‘s capacity building collaborative. “We have to look at those support networks for how we build capacity and we’re very fortunate to count on the support of the Community Foundation. We’re working with their consultants to look at our strategic initiatives, fund raising, board recruitment, programs and projects. We’re looking at where our impact has been and what the needs are in the community.”

She feels the center is well poised for the future.

“We realize we have a lot of work to do but there’s a lot of optimism and energy about where the agency could go.”

Best of all, the annual fund raiser returns July 23. “I’m so happy it’s going to be back,” says Quezada. Check for details on that and ongoing programs-services at http://www.latinocenterofthemidlands.org.

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