Casa Latinos Unidos was incorporated as a 501c3 organization in December 2008. It was founded by Dr. Erlinda Gonzalez-Berry, faculty with Oregon State University. Below, Dr. Berry tells the story of how Casa Latinos Unidos started its journey.
“The Department of Ethnic Studies at Oregon State University had a community service internship requirement when I was department chair. It was difficult to place our students as there were virtually no agencies serving communities of color in our county. Mostly we placed our students as assistants to teachers in Corvallis Public Schools.
When I retired from Oregon State in 2007, I set my heart on founding a Latino cultural center in Corvallis. After spending many months studying processes for founding a non-profit in Oregon– a process not unlike doing research for a dissertation–I filed for said status. I was told it might take up to a year. Three months later, Casa Latinos Unidos de Benton County was granted non-profit status.
I approached Dee Curwin and asked for her support. She offered me a free of charge office space at her center, formerly known as “The Yellow House” on Ninth Street. I then applied for a City grant designated to support neighborhood community groups. I stressed that we were not yet a community group, but that very soon we would be, as there was an urgent need for creating a Latino community center. I received a small ($800) grant and began the process of building a Latino service organization and space primarily for immigrant families.
Upon coming across a one-page Spanish language newsletter in a grocery store, I approached its editors and invited Delfina Hernandes to assist me in my mission. A migrant from Mexico, with an impressive record of community volunteer activity, she jumped at the chance. And thus began our journey.
Our first grant came from an organization in Portland that focused on the health issues of underrepresented communities in the state. (A former student and mentee brought this grant to my attention). With a $5,000 grant we began our community building work: an exercise and nutrition class for Latina women. Eventually the participants in this class formed the backbone of OLU, Organization de Latinas Unidas, a group of women who would play an important role in our growth.
Our mission was to build community, to offer social services, to develop literary and intellectual skills, to create a space for cultural celebrations, and a commitment to facilitating the integration of the Latino community—with emphasis on migrant families—into the broader community of Corvallis and Benton County. And we did not collect salaries for this work.
As I look back at this piece of my life, I can unequivocally assert that it was the most fulfilling experience of my professional life, and I realize that our mission would not have borne fruit had it not been for the commitment and generous labor of people like Delfina Hernandez, Maria Hart, Doris Cancel Tirado, Dee Curwin, Yazmin Brambila, an committed corps of OSU student interns, and countless others who assisted us selflessly and lovingly.”