Hispanic Heritage: La Plaza celebrates 50 years serving Indianapolis’ Latino community

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INDIANAPOLIS — The largest and oldest Latino nonprofit is celebrating 50 years serving Indianapolis’ Latino community.

“When I moved here 35 years ago, there were fewer than 9,000 Latinos [in central Indiana],” said Miriam Acevedo Davis, President and CEO of La Plaza. “At 13% [today], we certainly have a much larger footprint.”

Davis said La Plaza began as “El Centro Hispano Americano” and was started by the Mexican-American community to help migrants. Today, La Plaza offers educational programs, social services, and workforce development efforts.

When it comes to Latino youth, La Plaza offers services to address the high school drop-out rate and academic success of young Hoosiers. Each year the nonprofit awards up to six $2,000 four-year college scholarships to deserving Latino students from across Indiana. Students are selected based on their academic record, community involvement, and financial need.

“I just remember being a kid in elementary school and having to explain what it really was to be undocumented,” said Aldo Rosales, a recipient of La Plaza’s scholarship. “Being around a lot of Hispanic students wasn’t really something that was that common unless you were in an ESL course or something of the sort.”

24-year-old Rosales said he found that sense of unity and understanding within La Plaza.

“It’s a really good feeling just knowing that you’re not the only one that’s going through these type of hardships,” said Rosales. “That feeling is really rewarding.”

Rosales said he was first introduced to La Plaza when his mother signed him up for summer camp in the sixth grade. Since then, Rosales said he has benefited from La Plaza’s food program, DACA information, and various services.

“Primarily the LILY program and I was involved in that program from 6th grade on from when I graduated high school,” said Rosales.

The Leadership Institute for Latino Youth (LILY) is a free five-week summer program designed to help 9th – 12th-grade students gain the necessary skills to not only graduate from high school, but to succeed in college, career, and life. 

Rosales said the LILY program provided him with career advice, scholarship application assistance, and even college visits.

“My parents they were always working — and not having the knowledge about how college works in the United States as well — they left it to La Plaza to really take on that role for me,” said Rosales.

As an undocumented student looking for better education, Rosales said La Plaza made that dream come true. He is now working towards his master’s degree.

“That means the world to us. That’s why we’re here,” said Davis. “We’ve seen the community grow exponentially in the last 50 years, as well as the programs and services that La Plaza has provided.”

La Plaza also provides services for adult men and women – preparing families to succeed in the workforce and the community.

“Yo quiero estudiar para cortadora de baeza,” said Olimpia Rivero, a member of La Plaza.

La Plaza is helping Rivero learn English, but in the meantime, a translator explains she is pursuing a beauty school certification paid for by the nonprofit.

“Mi sueño es aprender algo, un oficio,” said Rivero mentioning that her dream is to learn a craft or trade.

“She really just wants to show women that it’s possible and that they can have these same opportunities as well,” said Rivero’s translator.

As a single mother of seven, once working two jobs, Rivero said she has even utilized La Plaza’s food distribution programs and rental assistance.

“Aqui en La Plaza nos espera con los abrazos abiertos y yo soy un ejemplo de ellos,” said Rivero adding that “La Plaza awaits with open arms and she’s an example of what success can look like.”

“50 great years, but wow, let’s make the next 50 even better,” said Davis.

Officials with La Plaza are now looking to expand with the addition of a new program, The Latino Opportunity Center. It has been in the works for several years and will focus specifically on workforce development — helping unemployed families who are impacted by poverty get a more sustainable job.

Davis said the nonprofit is still looking for additional space to house the Latino Opportunity Center and they are hoping to get the program started by late fall.

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