The Community Spotlight series features local leaders, organizations, and businesses who share our values to uplift, educate and unite. Through open dialogue, this series highlights their work and demonstrates how the United Palace connects with the organization or business to transform the community. The following are select excerpts of their conversations with us.
What type of non-profit do you operate?
Maria: NMIC has been in the community since 1979. We are a settlement house, which means that we provide holistic and comprehensive services to the entire family from cradle to grave. We do this through the provision of different programs, including legal services focusing on eviction prevention and immigration, and education and career services, such as our weatherization program that works with landlords who want energy-efficient treatments for their buildings.
We also have two investment co-operatives. The owners are EchoMundo, which have been in existence for six years and they brought in 1.2 million dollars in revenue, and Nannybee, which provide non-traditional nanny services to families. Last but not least, we have our social services department, where we do everything from free tax preparation, screening people for benefits, connecting them to health insurance, SNAP, as well as our domestic violence project, and our community health workers.
Wow, that is very comprehensive. Why do you think NMIC is so successful?
Maria: I think that we are successful because of the commitment and dedication of our staff. Over 50 percent of our staff live in the neighborhood. They are community residents themselves, and so they are invested in the work that we do. They care about every client that comes through the doors. They care about preserving families, and preserving communities, and because we really meet a need.
Describe your relationship with the United Palace.
Maria: The Palace is very near and dear to us. We have different kinds of working relationships with the Palace. At one point, we needed a site for a zumba class and we worked with the Palace to be able to provide that space. For the last couple of years, you have given us tickets to see The Hip Hop Nutcracker, which is really great, because we have clients that cannot afford to take their kids to see this. With our building maintenance training program, we renovated the Palace’s movie and film room. For us the Palace is an icon in the community and symbolic of what it means to be in the Heights. Whenever we have people come here, they are always like, “What is that building across the street?” and we love telling them “You need to go inside. You should see how beautiful and ornate the decorations are, and there aren't a lot of places like the Palace anywhere in the city.”
How do you think the community perceives the United Palace?
Maria: I think that the Palace is more open and welcoming now... I think new people to the Palace are just going to fall in love with it as they become exposed with the things that go on inside, such as the movies that take place. I know that the kid’s cinema has taken place there, and so I think that opening those doors to new people will have people fall in love with the Palace even more, and be more supportive of whatever efforts the Palace decides to take on.
How can the United Palace better serve the community?
Maria: I think that we need to have more conversations, in terms of what partnerships we can form, and what projects we can work on collaboratively. When we renovated the film room, that was a conversation that Mike and I had, and it turned into a real project. Mike asked, “Don't you do building maintenance? Couldn't they use this as a site to get experience?” And that's how the new film room came about. And so I think that we need to have more of those conversations. I know that everyone is busy. We are all extremely busy, but I know that it is a great way to really see what else we can do, and how else we can support the Palace, and the Palace can support the community residents.
Do you attend our events?
Maria: Yes! Actually two years ago, or three years ago, I came with my husband, son, and step daughter, to see The Hip Hop Nutcracker. We loved it! I’ve gone to the Palace when there have been rallies and I’ve done zumba at the Palace, so definitely yes, I personally have been active in the events at the Palace.
What advice would you give someone in a similar career just starting out?
Maria: I think that it is definitely important to attach yourself to mentors and role models. There is a lot of good people out there, so it's not that hard to find. You also need to look at non-profits as a business, because we also have to survive and have a balance budget to have money to pay rent. Realize that you have to run a non-profit like a business, so that you can continue to exist for the community residents that need you.
What were some of the greatest challenges you encountered?
Maria: I think fighting the bureaucracies and systems that have policies in place that hurt community residents instead of assist them. With the recent administration, DACA was repealed, and here you have kids that, for all intents and purposes, are United States citizens, and now feel threatened that they will be shipped back to a land they do not remember, are not familiar with and know nothing about. That is the kind of stuff that makes the work really hard.
What does Reawaken Wonder mean to you?
Maria: Well, it sounds like you are trying to inspire, to wake up and take that leap, to see what is out there, and what they can do about it.
Maria sees the United Palace from her office every day!