Member Story

Latinos in Philanthropic Leadership Rise

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My name is Shirley Anne Smith, and although my name doesn’t automatically speak to my Latino heritage, I am a proud Latina of Puerto Rican descent. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, the essence of family—including gatherings and taking care of one another—are strong and ever present in my DNA. 

It comes as no surprise that I chose a career in nonprofits. Being a lifelong Girl Scout as both a young girl and a working professional, combined with my culture, has shaped my desire to help make the world a better place. 

This year, however, my culture and heritage took on a different meaning.

Americans celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month September 15 - October 15. These dates represent the anniversary of independence for many Caribbean and South American countries such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.  

Any other year during this time, I would simply post on Facebook or Instagram with a quick shout out regarding Hispanic Heritage Month. This year it became evident for me to highlight how Latino culture is changing philanthropy across the country, including my city of residence: Atlanta, Georgia. 

Since the onset of COVID-19, Latino families in the United States have been affected by the loss of employment, loss of food security and the transition to virtual learning environments from school to home. Additionally, the threat to public policies, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the threat of increased deportation of non-citizens, have impacted the Latino community like never before. In the face of adversity, there have been numerous nonprofit organizations, and their fearless leaders whom I have followed with admiration, navigating unprecedented circumstances in a highly politicized environment. 

A few examples:  

  • Ser Familia: Belisa Urbina, Puerto Rican, transformed her organization by providing emergency services to the Latino community, including summer camp remediation support, food drives as well as rental/mortgage financial assistance. 
  • Latino Community Fund of Georgia: Led by Gilda (Gigi) Pedraza, Peruvian, the Fund jumped right into action and provided the Latino community with opportunities to get tested for COVID-19 and created opportunities for undocumented business owners to thrive under a state of economic recovery. 
  • Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials: Led by Jerry Gonzalez, this organization launched the most comprehensive grassroots community movement to advocate for increased Latino participation in the upcoming 2020 Census and elections. 

These essential leaders and their philanthropic missions are providing immediate assistance, direct services and a greater voice for the Latino community. Whether it’s a designated month to own and celebrate your heritage, or the ethnicity of a friend or a neighbor, what matters most is taking care of one another—not as strangers but as family.  

This year being Latina means that our community can count on us to be there when they need us. With a besito and a bendición*, Latino philanthropy has proved that in times of need, our grit and can-do attitudes will ensure that even in times of adversity, we have your back.

*Definitions:
Besito = Kiss
Bendición = Blessing

SSAShirley Anne Smith is the executive director of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation (AFRF) and first Latina leader of the organization. AFRF is the sole nonprofit funding agency supporting the 1,100 women and men firefighters in the City of Atlanta. Since the onset of COVID-19, she has led the strategic effort that has provided firefighters with immediate support of personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and over 5,000 meals.

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