Formed in 2005, the nonprofit Latino Civic Alliance began as a way to provide civic engagement education for the Latino community in Washington state. One of their signature activities is Latino Legislative Day, which brings community members from across the state to meet with their state legislators and empowers them to bring back new advocacy tools and skills to their communities. Several elected leaders, including Councilmember Jimmy Matta, have been involved with the organization. Their priorities have focused on health care, education, gun violence, police reform, behavioral health, and opportunities for youth. They have joined forces with other organizations to advocate for specific legislation such as the police reform bill I-940 (now known as the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act) and addressing the increase of hate crimes.
Latino Civic Alliance’s dream of creating a place where they could offer their own programs and build community became a reality with the opening of a new community center on Ambaum Blvd SW in 2021, in partnership with Catholic Community Services.
In 2020, the organization received funding to implement programs, and they needed a new headquarters. Nina Martinez, board chair of Latino Civic Alliance, led the decision to choose the organization’s new home. After considering Everett, Federal Way, and Yakima, the organization settled on Burien.
A survey revealed Burien as a top choice for stakeholders. The growth of Burien’s Latino population and affordability for their staff living nearby also played a role in the decision.
“I found the City of Burien is very approachable and very collaborative. The city staff, city manager, city council—it felt more personal with Burien,” said Martinez. “We thought, ‘this is where we are going to call home.’”
Latino Civic Alliance has been focused recently on gun violence, raising an alarm about youth having increased access to guns. Beyond advocating at the state level for more prevention programs to address the underlying causes of gun violence, the organization made the decision to start offering their own prevention programs.
One of their programs that has seen success is ACHIEVE, a social-emotional learning afterschool program that pairs highly trained, Spanish-speaking navigators with youth and families. It takes a holistic approach to working with parents to help our youth complete their education. They use creative ways to encourage youth through effective communication tools to work with their teachers and families, visual arts, poetry, and painting resulting in the publication of a book. The program helps parents with food, utilities, medical insurance, and other essential needs. It also helps students prepare for college or apprenticeship programs.
The ACHIEVE program employs 12 people locally and is currently being implemented in four school districts across the state, including Highline School District. They have plans to more than double the number of school districts implementing the program.
Their Discovery program is a communication and behavioral health outreach program. In planning for the launch of this program, Latino Civic Alliance needed a partner that could address substance abuse and behavioral health needs. Catholic Community Services, with their Wraparound with Intensive Services (WISe) program, was chosen as their partner.
“We chose them because their program was excellent,” said Martinez. “Their programs are provided at home instead of sending folks to a clinical setting. Latino families need more engagement. There is a stigma for kids with mental health issues and families don’t always understand. The program takes a gentle and respectful approach to partnering with parents.”
Latino Civic Alliance’s new home in Burien is not only the home base for their educational and behavioral programs. It’s also open to the community, offering meeting space, a computer lab and classes, workshops on parenting, and leadership training for parents.
Opening a community center during a pandemic has been a challenge, but like other community-based organizations, they pivoted their original plans to help their community make it through. This involved distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), offering testing and vaccine clinics, and advocating with the governor and state agencies to do more for essential workers.
They opened a second location, the Latino Civic & Cultural Center, in downtown Burien in late March.
The new Latino Cultural Center has spaces for community meetings, civic engagement education, and a video and art gallery showcasing Latino civil rights leaders. The cultural center will also have a recording studio and an internet radio station. They will be hiring up to five people to work in the new space.
“We want to support our community having a political voice at the table,” said Martinez. “We are building our civic leaders and getting them more involved. We want a space for Latinos to call their home.”