Q & A with John and Frances Padilla, Progreso Latino Fund Founders

The Progreso Latino Fund Advisory Committee in 2005

Twenty years ago, John and Frances Padilla approached The Community Foundation about forming a group of local Latino leaders to take ownership of a permanent charitable fund with resources raised by and for the Latino community. The Foundation committed to a matching grant, and the first advisory committee formed to establish the Progreso Latino Fund.

The Padilla’s shared their experience in a recent interview.

Q. What was the first activity of the Progreso Latino Fund?

A. John

We started something that was unique at the time — holding forums and bringing people together for conversations. Not a dinner, not an event, but a conversation.

The first topic was: “Is Hispanic Leadership Different?” We thought it was a good idea

PLF Forum
The inaugural PLF Forum in 2004.

but didn’t know what to expect. Three hundred people showed up to the old 500 Blake Street restaurant, which was a big place, and it was packed.

There wasn’t an ask per se. We recognized people had to learn about the process involved. People needed to understand `what does The Foundation do?’ `What is philanthropy?’ `What is the perpetuity thing about?’ `Why should I give money to somebody who doesn’t need it right now?’ All those kinds of things.

We spent our time teaching about the Progreso Latino Fund, about what we hoped to do, about contributions we were getting.

Q. What were your goals for the Fund?

A. John

One was this idea that it’s not just about Latinos and their money, but about Latinos and their influence and leadership. The Progreso Latino Fund has brought a whole new group of people to become involved in The Foundation that otherwise would not have been the case.

One now [Fernando Muñiz] is on the board – the vice chair of the board.

A. Frances

When people who have grown up without affluence are on a board, they bring a voice – the term of the day now is lived experience. Foundation boards tend to attract elites from the community, folks in business, in the legal system, in banking, that kind of thing.

There are people now on The Community Foundation board who served with the Progreso Latino Fund, and they are really coming at this work from their experiences growing up working class or as an immigrant, and that has not often been seen on foundation boards in the past. We are beginning to see more of that now, and not just on The Community Foundation board. I am speaking more broadly. Foundations are starting to say, `Wait a minute, maybe this table needs to be set a different way.’ It makes a difference when making decisions about grants or about policy or strategic focus if you have voices of people who lived in housing projects, and not just people who drive by them every day.

A. John:

The relationship building of the Progreso Latino Fund has also been so important. People have been introduced to The Foundation and the Foundation has been introduced to new people. It has been a widening of the circle, which was part of our intent.

Q. What achievements of the Progreso Latino Fund are you proud of?

A. Frances

I am heartened by the number of people attracted to the steering committee - younger people who represent a variety of demographics of the Latino community. The community has changed in the 20 years since we formed the fund. The focus on Puerto Ricans is still there, but there is so much more diversity within the Latine community – people from Central and South America and other Caribbean Latinos. People see a place for themselves.

A. John

That we have 10 family funds. One thing we tried to live as a value is to give from what you have, not from what you have left over. So, the fact that people are creating these funds, they are acknowledging aspirations that they want to see fulfilled. They think that a Community Foundation fund is one way of doing it.

Q. What are your continued hopes for the Progreso Latino Fund?

A. Frances

The grant making while modest is good. The focus has been on leadership and on young people That’s the name of the game. The future is in the young people. We saw that right off the bat. We began to get requests for small grants to help a young person to particular with some educational opportunity or to help another young person travel someplace. It became clear that this is a resource that folks can tap into.

I would love to see the Progreso Latino Fund grow to where it is kicking off more income for grant making and that The Foundation uses the fund as a leverage for Foundation investing.

Frances and John Padilla

Q. Can you share some thoughts about this 20th anniversary year and what you are looking forward to for the future of the Progreso Latino Fund?

A. Frances

There is an opportunity in this 20th anniversary year to set our sights on growing fund to a new level. There have been hundreds of people who have contributed to the PL fund and not all them are Latinos. We never thought it would only be Latinos contributing but it would be a vehicle for the larger community to come to know the Latino community in a different way. We have a chance to do that this year.

Look at the social political environment we are living in right now. The 20th anniversary is a great opportunity to take the prerogative of the pulpit and make some statements and say what we’re going to do. We are living in a time of great threat to democracy. This is a rough time to be poor and to be undocumented and to be underemployed. We are living in a reactionary political environment. And even though we live in Connecticut, a blue state, there’s a lot that needs to be said about what our values are as a community.

I believe the Progreso Latino Fund should be speaking out about what it means for Latino community of

Greater New Haven to have greater access to opportunity. There’s a mayoral race coming up, the presidential election and public policy plays out in people’s lives. Those are the things that the Progreso Latino Fund ought to talk about.