Latinflare Presents: A Fireside Chat with UnidosNOW
Part of Latinflare's Latinx Heritage Month programming, this Fireside Chat with Project Galileo customer, UnidosNOW will help us to understand Cloudflare's impact on a non-profit based in Florida. UnidosNOW's mission is to elevate the quality of life of the growing Hispanic/Latino community through education, integration, and civic engagement.
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening everyone everywhere. My name is Francisco.
I am based in London and I work at the customer success team of Cloudflare.
As part of the Latin Heritage Month celebrations, our employee resource group or ERG called Latinflare has been doing multiple events.
This interview will give a closer to that cycle.
And that is why we have invited some very special guests, Cintia and Wil from UnidosNow.
Thank you for joining us today. Can you please introduce yourselves for the audience?
Thank you, Francisco. Hello everybody.
My name is Cintia Elenstar. I'm program director at UnidosNow and I'm originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Hello everyone. Francisco, thank you for having us.
My name is Wil Colon and I am from Puerto Rico. Cool. Thank you for that intro.
And to build on that, I'm from Montevideo, Uruguay. So as you can see, we are all here with Latin origin.
So to give some context of this interview, I want to share that I met Cintia and Wil because UnidosNow is part of Cloudflare's Project Galileo.
Cloudflare has the mission to help build a better Internet and that includes protecting free expression online for vulnerable groups.
Therefore, in 2014, we launched this service free of cost to protect important and vulnerable targets like artistic groups, humanitarian organizations, non-for-profits, among others.
So that said, can you please tell us a bit more about what does UnidosNow do?
Of course. So UnidosNow was founded in 2010 and the goal was to provide formal and organized representation to the growing and underrepresented Latino community in Sarasota and Manatee counties here in West Florida.
And we evolved from an all-volunteer group to a 501c3 nonprofit that has empowered thousands of families in our region.
Our goal, or actually our mission, is to elevate the quality of life of the Latino and Hispanic community through education, integration, and civic engagement.
And we do this by having established a pipeline from elementary to high school, all the way through college, to help first generation low income students.
And one thing that I wanted to mention is that everything that we do, all of our programs, have a multi -generational approach.
That means that the whole family is engaged and we also rely heavily on community partners.
Let me add that what I find so impressive about UnidosNow is how much this small team accomplishes and how many different things they do to help the community.
So part of what I try to do as a volunteer, by the way, but bringing in technology into the organization, is to leverage that passion and that energy the team has and multiply it using technology so that we can be more effective.
That is amazing. I really like those ambitious goals as you're working with so many different people at so many different levels.
That's really incredible. By the way, feliz cumpleaños, happy birthday.
I know that you have just turned 10 years and so has Kloepfer, by the way.
So that was just a happy coincidence. Something I would like to know a bit more about is how many families are impacted by what you do and how are your goals looking like?
Yes. Well, I'm confident to say that we have impacted at least 6,000 families in our region.
And I'm not counting the families that maybe attended a large event and learned about us and about our services or maybe those that watch our videos on YouTube or follow us on social media.
So it's definitely a huge impact.
And in terms of our goals, we want to continue strengthening our program to offer more internships, more career explorations, so that by 2030, all the students who are Latinos in our region have finished high school with a post -secondary education plan.
Cool. Thank you for sharing that. I bet that you have a lot of different community stories.
Is there any favorite stories that you would like to share of something that you may have changed?
We do. I mean, we have a lot of stories.
You're right. One that we are very proud of and also very excited is the story about Rich Manatee.
Rich Manatee is a local college access network. In simple words, it's a collaborative group of organizations and businesses in Manatee County that have come together to increase post-secondary education attainment in our region.
And as you can imagine, getting started with something new is always challenging.
It was a lot of work to get Rich Manatee off the ground, to bring together all the different partners, to actually get a grant to hire a consultant to develop our strategic plan.
And it's just amazing how we have grown in these four years.
In fact, UNIDOS now has been the backbone organization of Rich Manatee until recently.
And as part of one of the initiatives of Rich Manatee, we started the Latino Project.
And the goal of this project was to promote career readiness. So for those students who are not interested in going to a four-year university, we wanted to provide support so that they could successfully get accepted to a technical or community college.
And this project has really shed light on the need of information that these students have.
To give you an example, when we started the program this year, there were 12 senior students in the career readiness track.
And when they started, they said that they wanted to go to a technical or community college.
And after they learned about what it takes to go to a four-year university and the different opportunities to get financial aid, they decided to change.
And now they want to go to a four-year university and get a bachelor's degree.
It's up to them what they want to do, which is here to support them.
But what was interesting to learn was that by talking with these students, I learned that the reason why they had not considered a bachelor's degree is because they thought that it was too difficult for them to obtain or too expensive.
So providing them with these resources, this information, for them to make well-informed decisions is something that I myself am very proud of.
And I'm really happy to work with a team that is making this possible.
And let me share kind of on the other end, more on the micro level.
We've done some great things. Every year, the kids that complete our Future Leaders Academy program have a career day.
And that's always such a blast to see the kids present and explain why they're making the decisions they're making and the choices they're making about college to attend or post-secondary plans they made.
We've had alumni meetings where the families and the kids show up and the love they pour on the needles now is pretty amazing.
But during this whole pandemic, one of the things that we had to step up to do was, you know, the kids were having to do more online and the level of technical expertise in the family sometimes didn't measure up to what the kids needed to do.
So I had the opportunity or the scary chance to get on the phone with some of the parents or the kids and try to walk them through what may be going on.
If any in the audience has ever gone through that, it is nerve -wracking because you can't see, usually you can't see what's going on.
But I actually got to go into one of the students' house at one point.
There was some hardware that needed to be dealt with.
And just to see the family, the deference, the appreciation, just the commitment that they made to the kid and they're seeing and supporting the student as well, it made it all worthwhile.
That is very impressive.
And also being able to break those stigmas and help this community that they may have thought at one point, OK, maybe I will not be able to make it.
But then having this kind of support sounds really amazing. So thank you for doing such an amazing job there.
Will, now that you mentioned COVID, can you tell us how did COVID impact your day to day and the people that benefit from UnidosNow?
As you have mentioned it now, it would be nice to know how are you coping with that at the moment?
It must be quite challenging. Well, I mean, I mentioned earlier before we went live that Cynthia has become the community's Zoom demigoddess.
We have become, we have had to become very adept at doing things online.
Yeah, I'm going to keep heaping praise on you, Cynthia. So I don't know if you want to jump in here at any point and defend yourself.
But Cynthia took the bull by the horns in various technology aspects that I otherwise may have struggled to get the organization to embrace.
There was one particular activity where UnidosNow historically has helped students and their families in order to support the student and the parents for good parenting and leadership within the parenting.
So we've always been involved with the whole family.
But what COVID made clear and necessary is that there was nothing the families could do for their students or for themselves if they lost jobs.
If they couldn't pay the rent, if they couldn't pay the electric, if they couldn't even get Internet, right, because everything was being done online, but if they couldn't pay that Internet bill, they were very much at risk.
So I can't say enough about the community. And maybe Cynthia, you want to elaborate on that later.
But there, some funds were made available and the community turned to UnidosNow to say, help us find the people, the families who need these funds.
And in order to do that, it wasn't just a matter of willy-nilly handing out.
We built a workflow. We use CVCRM as our foundation for this kind of work.
So we built a workflow. Cynthia was instrumental in designing that workflow, along with others in the organization, so that there was a very prescribed and controlled and monitored process, so nobody fell through the cracks, where it went from, I am a family impacted, I am a family in danger, at risk, I have this specific need.
The need was reviewed with documentation. The need was approved, if that was the right thing.
And then payment was made directly to the, not to the family, but to the, wherever the bill was due.
So it was a real quick turnaround, something we've never done before.
Basically, our first experience with case management with financial implications involved.
And fortunately, again, the technology was in some ways the easy part.
The fact that the team stepped up and said, we know we need this, help us do this, and we did it.
It was quite impressive.
So yeah, COVID had impact across a lot of areas, but that's one part where I'm very proud of how the team responded.
And if I may add something, Francisco, as Will said, I would say that the team, UnidosNow team, adapted very well to the transition to working from home and doing everything online, because we immediately switched all of our programs to an online format.
But the family that we work with, many of them struggled with this transition.
You know, they were not familiar with technology, some did not even have a laptop at home, and all of a sudden the student had to take classes online.
And even though schools were lending laptops, again, if they don't know how to use it, it's like a, you know, pretty daunting, right, thing to tackle.
So in addition to having Will, who is amazing, and okay, I'm going to now sing praises of him, but you know, yeah, you really made our jobs so much easier.
We had really the support of so many people.
We had alumni and high school students who came to the rescue, and they started offering tutoring services to the elementary and middle school students.
And not just about the classes themselves, the subjects, but also helping them understand how a computer works, you know, how to save a document in Word or Google Doc.
And apart from that, we, as Will mentioned, we were able to create a relief fund, a COVID -19 emergency fund, thanks to the support of a lot of generals, private donors, and also foundations.
And with that money, we were able to help financially those families that did not qualify for other types of financial help, and that really needed to have their basic needs met before they could do anything else.
No, that's definitely fantastic.
It looks like the community in Sarasota, and probably the broader area there, really look up at Unidos now and trust you with these kind of things, because it's not like, you can always say, okay, who should I give my money to support?
I want to support somebody, but who do I go to? And it's great that they can place that trust on you, and also the fact that you have built it in such a sustainable way that people who you have helped in the past are now helping people who need the support at the moment.
That's really impressive, and hopefully it keeps on growing and expanding the impact.
So that's really good.
Thank you for sharing that. Then, also a bit related with COVID in terms of the online part, but mostly generally speaking, how important is the online presence for Unidos now, and why is that?
Let me start with the website, right?
A lot of how the community keeps up with what we do. Yes, we use social media.
We are very active on Facebook and Instagram and whatnot. But the website is critical, because a lot of information, a lot of how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it, how I feel about it.
What I found out about UnidosNow, I moved into the area, retired, and didn't want to just sit all day.
And I found out about UnidosNow through the website. And it remains the main way that people get to know us, UnidosNow.org, for anyone who wants to go check it out.
It It may not be the best -designed website out there, but it's full of information, and it's all very relevant to what we do.
But the other thing is we also, as I mentioned, use CVCRM, which is Constituent Relationship Management System.
It's an open-source project, and the ability – so, for instance, when we need information from a family, they can go to a link that – they probably hear about the link through a text message that we sent through CVCRM, so they click on that link on their phone and the text message, and they can give us the information that we need to start working with them.
It's not just an information that creates a record on a spreadsheet like some of the other systems.
It actually goes into our relationship management database, and from there, we can start picking off processes and keeping track of our interactions.
My whole objective, my passion at UnidosNow is to make sure nobody falls through the cracks, that whoever needs help, whoever has contacted us, that we have a good record of what they have shared with us and what we can do for them, and that we can follow up on that.
So, both in terms of communicating through their website and through social media, and in terms of interacting with our community through, you know, smartphones, text messages have proven to be the best way for us to get in touch with them.
That all relies on – I mentioned earlier, you know, the multiplier effect.
If we had to do this all over the phone with interviews, we couldn't serve nearly as many, but by being able to leverage technology in this way, we're able to have a much – where is it?
Punch above our weight, as I've heard it said.
That's definitely really cool. I was wondering, in case there's somebody in the audience that may consider getting some extra help, maybe applying to Project Galileo, how was it before you used Cloudflare?
So, to be honest, I kind of had this vague awareness of Cloudflare, because Cloudflare is such a well-known partner in so many different aspects.
But the turning point, the issue that brought me running to Cloudflare is that we got hacked.
In fact, we got hacked twice over a fairly short period of time.
And that website that I was telling you is so important, it was also very vulnerable.
So the process of going through restoring – the first time we got hacked, it was just a matter of doing a restore from a backup.
But the second time, they had planted some Trojan horses and whatnot, and it was a very difficult situation.
We were serving as a dating site for some Southeast Asian country or something.
I don't want to get into the details, but it was a very well -thought-out attack.
And I needed a lot of help to get through that.
In time, through help with partners, I got through it. But in the process, it was actually our executive director, Luz Corcuera, who says, Will, have you heard about Cloudflare?
How she heard about you guys, I don't know.
She's not the technical person. But she said, have you heard about Cloudflare?
And I'm like, you know what, after the site is back, I need to look into this.
So yeah, I started looking at Cloudflare as an option. And to be honest, I don't even remember how I came across Project Galileo.
And it was such a line, such a rescue line, because – lifeline.
Because it made it a very easy decision to engage.
I'm glad, because at the time, to be honest, I wasn't exactly sure how Cloudflare was going to help us.
Now I do. But at the time, it wasn't clear at all how it would be the game changer that it turns out to be.
That's a really good story, and thank you for sharing that.
Actually, Project Galileo was one of the things that brought me closer to Cloudflare initially.
So I'm happy that I'm able to see these kind of things helping other organizations.
Hopefully more and more will join, maybe with different goals than the one that UnidosNow have.
Or maybe they're actually similar. So that would be really good. So I'm wondering then, how can people get involved with UnidosNow?
If they would like to contribute somehow, other than definitely going to unidosnow.org, what else can they do to contribute?
Sure, yeah, I'd be happy to talk about that. Just to put some background on what people can do, I want to explain that we have several programs that are ongoing.
We have programs in elementary, middle, and high school, as well as a program for our alumni who are in college to provide them with support while they are taking college classes.
And also we have a program for parents.
It's called Parent Leadership. And this program is not just about learning English, which is one of the things that they do in the program.
They also learn about community resources and how to navigate the education system in the U.S.
Because just keep in mind that most of the families we work with, the parents maybe didn't go to school in this country or did not even go to school in their own country.
So it's very scary for them to try to help their kids, you know, understand what a report card looks like and what a GPA is and things like that.
So they learn all these things.
And it's a wonderful program where we work not only with the students, but also with the parents.
Then we have our high school program that's called FLA, Future Leaders Academy.
And that's a very rigorous program where students learn all the tools that they need to get accepted into their best college.
And most of the colleges are selective ones. You know, we have students who have recently been accepted into Yale, Cornell, Princeton with a full ride.
And some decided to stay local, you know, and they've been accepted to University of Florida, FSU, FIU.
The goal, again, is to empower them so that they can dream big and reach high, whatever reach high means to each of them.
So one of the things that we do in this program is we pair up students with mentors.
And mentors are basically people with a little bit more of experience who want to make a difference in the life of a student.
And they help them with college applications. They just have conversations with them.
And it's all done online. We are doing nothing in person right now.
So it's really easy to volunteer, you know, no matter where you are.
And we're super flexible, you know, with the requirements. We just want to have kind-hearted people who are interested in making, again, a difference in somebody's life.
So right now, we're looking for volunteers in addition to mentors.
Volunteers in the fields of marketing, communications, finance, and fundraising.
So if anybody is strong in those areas and wants to help us, we are welcoming you with open arms.
You can also follow us on social media. That's a wonderful way to support us too.
Just search UnidosNow. That's our handle. Pretty easy.
And we're also recruiting mentors to help with FAFSA. FAFSA is a free application for federal student aid.
Basically, free money that students can get to go to college.
And we need more volunteers to help us help the students complete that application.
And last but not least, if you can and want to donate, you can do that as well.
You can just go to our website, unidosnow.org. And in the upper right corner of the homepage, there's a red button to donate.
Cool. Thank you for sharing that.
And then regarding the volunteers, just to be on the same page, can anyone volunteer, it doesn't matter where they are at, like any other country, would it be okay as well?
They might not know the US system very well, maybe from the movies and TV shows, but I don't know if that would count.
How do you handle that?
That's a great question. You know, there's maybe some activities that are not going to be the most suitable ones for somebody who is from another country.
But for example, helping a student apply for college, you know, we provide training to all the mentors.
So as long as they want to learn, we're happy to teach them.
And also, I want to clarify that you don't have to be Latino or Hispanic to volunteer.
Anybody can do it. You don't even need to know Spanish.
So again, we are open to anybody who wants to join our mission to continue making an impact in the community in Sarasota and Manatee County and eventually to continue expanding.
All right, thank you. Hopefully with this segment, somebody from the audience, we want to take a step forward there as well.
And looking at the clock now, it looks like we are coming up to the end of the session.
So I wanted to thank you again for your presence here and for sharing a bit more of what you do.
Those stories were really amazing.
So thanks again for that. And with that in mind, I would like to invite the audience to, first of all, visit unidosnow.org to see all the cool stuff that they are working on and achieving.
They have a lot of upcoming events.
You can actually go to their calendar and see those kind of things as well.
Second, in whichever country you live, if you're eligible to vote, please register to vote and exercise your right to vote.
I know we haven't covered this now during this session, but that's something that we were actually talking with Cynthia and Will, especially as the US is coming to their election period.
So that's always important to do wherever you live. And last but not least, if you're part of a non-for-profit organization that may need help against cyber attacks, I would encourage you to browse for Project Galileo and fill in the form.
Hopefully Cloudflare can help you out. And don't wait until after the attack like we did.
Yes, that would be good. Definitely. Yeah. Sometimes you think that nothing wrong will happen until it actually does.
So it's like the car insurance.
Maybe you don't need it until you actually need it. So yeah, having these extra protections could definitely help.
You know, sorry, Francisco. Yeah, no, go ahead.
But since you're talking directly to other organizations who may benefit from this, I'm not an IT professional.
Yes, I may have an engineering, electrical engineering background.
It doesn't help you when it comes to figuring out what all these computers do.
But the interface is simple enough.
The concepts are straightforward enough for the most part that you can start taking advantage of.
For example, it's very easy. It was very easy for us to say, OK, let's block out Southeast Asia.
Let's not allow any requests there because we don't serve anybody there.
And that alone has taken our exposure, our risk profile way down.
Yeah, that's completely true. So thank you. Muchas gracias, Cynthia and Will.
Hopefully we can keep in touch. Thank you very much. Have a wonderful day.
Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.