Last month the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia launched the Latino Engagement and Achievement Fund (LEAF) as a strategic, permanent way to promote and invest in civic engagement, education, economic opportunity, and the overall prosperity of Latinos in the Metro DC region. Founders of LEAF, Paty Funegra, Founder of La Cocina VA, and Diana Katz, co-founder of Giving Circle of Hope, were inspired by the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program report “Unlocking Latino Civic Potential: 2016 and Beyond”.
The report, which resulted from a convening of 28 leaders in the civic space, focused on four key recommendations for increasing Latino civic engagement — voter engagement, immigrant integration and naturalization, civic education, and leadership development. Its recommendations address overarching challenges of insufficient data collection, lack of sustained investment in engaging the community, and other issues.
For the founders of LEAF, the report was unlike any other they had read. Its concise, expertly informed recommendations offered a blueprint for concrete actions they could take to advance their vision of an empowered and engaged Latino community. “There are tons of reports and studies that come out and they are comprehensive and have lots of data, but they leave you in limbo without knowing what do,” Paty Funegra said. “But this report was short, clear, and easy to share. I loved that. It really worked.” For Diana Katz, the report reflected circumstances that she saw taking place in her community. “The report resonated with me because I experienced what the recommendations were talking about,” she said. “It was see[ing] in words what I’ve been experiencing.”
The report inspired Funegra and Katz to design LEAF as a way to meaningfully resource local Latino-serving organizations and also catalyze philanthropy within and beyond the Latino community for causes affecting the region. “We want to be a pioneer philanthropic group that creates a movement of civically engaged Latino individuals, families, and entire communities,” Funegra said.
LEAF provides a mechanism for activating local philanthropy. The founders see Latino philanthropy as a critical link in unlocking Latino civic potential. “Civic participation is not just voting, volunteering and civic education, ” Katz said. “It’s about leaving the community better than you found it.” Their aim is to educate and engage Latinos about the role of grassroots philanthropy in making progress on issues affecting their community. In addition to changing the narrative around the philanthropic possibilities of the Latino community, LEAF will look at civic engagement holistically. As suggested in the report, the founders’ goal is to eliminate funding siloes so that related projects can reinforce and complement each other. In its first year, LEAF will focus on English language proficiency and civic education, in particular training for community members involved in the naturalization process.
To achieve their goals, the founders emphasized the need for collaboration. LEAF will look for inputs from local leaders, elected officials, entrepreneurs, and Latino leaders in carrying forward its vision. Without sufficient sustained investment in the community, the founders fear limited civic participation will persist and result in underrepresentation in all areas of society. Ultimately, LEAF — a permanent endowment dedicated to the civic health of the community — will provide the sustained funding and inclusive vision required to unlock Latino civic potential in northern Virginia.