By Monique Hopson, Master of Science in Social Administration Degree Candidate at the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences
Welcome to Sangfroid Strategy’s new series spotlighting Northeast Ohio nonprofit organizations that have done the hard work of adapting their programming and continue to deliver great services during these times. 2020 was a year that left many nonprofits learning how to adjust to current events, while 2021 has displayed the resiliency and adaptability that has been a hallmark of the industry in Northeastern Ohio. We asked nonprofits to share the impact they have on the communities they serve, how they have adapted to meet emerging needs arising from COVID-19, and the challenges they experienced.
We are continuously learning and growing as an organization to better serve our community.
As a nonprofit that began fundraising in 1993 by selling snow cones, and now holds an annual Fiesta of Hope, Esperanza, Inc. has come a long way. Esperanza, meaning “hope” in Spanish, was started as a scholarship fund to support those in the LatinX community that wanted to attend college. Finding that many students of Latin descent were not able to easily access higher education, Esperanza established the Hispanic Youth Council which hosted small student groups and provided them with leadership opportunities while preparing them for college. Fast forward over 25 years, and the Hispanic Youth Council now supports people of all ages with college and career access through Cuyahoga Community College, certificate programs, and workforce placements.
Esperanza has continued to enhance and expand its organization and serve those in the Hispanic community by supporting programs such as the Youth Mentoring program which provides students with one-on-one, group, and gender-based mentoring. The mentors serve as role models that support youth and help them to understand issues that affect those in the Hispanic community such as how to gain access to trade unions or how to safely handle being stopped by the police. Esperanza shows that it is paying attention to its clients’ needs and to the barriers and challenges that language can bring by providing access to wraparound resources that include tutoring, social services, ESL, and mental health services. Esperanza has partnered with the Cleveland Municipal School District’s family engagement program where it helps parents to understand the local educational system and through the School Choice program, assists families in finding their best-fit high school. Esperanza does all of this while also awarding 100 scholarships each year with the scholarship, each student also receives a college mentor with the same major that they connect with to ask questions about their chosen career. The students also receive help with internships and network building.
Esperanza makes its impact on the community they serve by meeting the community where they are.
When COVID-19 began, it took Esperanza two weeks to start planning and innovating for its new programs. Zulayka Ruiz, Director of Programs, described the organization as “innovative and not being afraid of changing programs that do not work.” One example of this is the way they changed their workshops when they heard that there were other needs and began looking for partner organizations that could serve those needs. Esperanza fills the community’s needs while preserving its mission and vision. More than 96% of their clients are satisfied with the services that they receive. Each year at the Fiesta of Hope, Victor Ruiz, CEO, advocates for the Hispanic community while sharing the impact of their work by having alumni back to share their journeys.
Esperanza has adapted to the impact of COVID-19 by adding learning pods for 18 students in grades 5 through 12. Through their internet access and materials, students are able to get their homework done. They have learned that not everyone thrives in a virtual classroom and are in the process of trying to find a way to bring people to their physical location. Those who cannot join in programs virtually can receive books and materials ahead of time and join programs by telephone. While this model has been breaking barriers to education and access for some of those they serve, they are looking forward to the day when they can be back in person.
Where they are Headed
In the next three to five years, the nonprofit’s principal needs are to expand their facilities. Esperanza looks forward to the day when they have space to be supportive of those that they serve both locally and through partners. Until then, they are excited for the new Cuyahoga Community College Access Center opening in the spring of 2021.
The mission of Esperanza is to improve the academic achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland by supporting students to graduate high school and promoting post-secondary educational attainment.