By: Sergio Rodriguez
When I was voted in as President at Los Tainos, the organization was in turmoil. Accusations of theft, lack of transparency and questions about how the funds were misappropriated were commonplace. Trust had deteriorated to the point that some members of the board were pushed out and I, a relative new comer, had been sought out to lead the organization toward transparency. A new board was quickly established and with it, a hope for a brighter future.
That was 4 years ago.
Recently, I decided to step down from my leadership position due to numerous responsibilities related to full-time work and my recent commitment as Chairman of the City of Buffalo Boy Scouts organization, among others. I knew I could not juggle these responsibilities while maintaining a healthy work-life balance- something that has become increasingly important to me throughout the past decade. After four years, it was my time to hand over the ropes to someone with the enthusiasm and energy to carry on the mission of Los Tainos.
I reached out to various individuals in the community, requesting involvement in the organization with the goal of establishing a new leadership board.
The call was heeded by Mr. Benny Matta, a longtime community advocate, at an open meeting announced nearly 4 weeks in advance and held Wednesday, March 18th. The house was packed with around 30 seniors in attendance, as well as representatives from the West Side Community Services and Concerned Ecumenical Ministries, who were also invited to attend.
By most accounts, the meeting was a success. I commended Mr. Matta for stepping up to the plate and I answered questions from those in attendance. A succession plan was firmly established, with my full confidence in Mr. Matta’s ability to lead the organization forward.
The next day I received a call from an active member in the community who had heard rumors that there were “problems” at Los Tainos. This community resident was unable to provide me with any additional details.
Although I had no details of these rumors, it disturbed me. I want to set the record straight by highlighting the progress of Los Tainos over the past four years through this open letter.
With the help of our volunteer board, With the help of our volunteer board, numerous initiatives were established that helped to secure a better future for Los Tainos including:
• Infrastructure upgrades which included replacement of floor tiles, ceiling boards, wall painting.
• New carpeting for offices and new chairs for waiting area.
• Complete upgrade of the center’s plumbing system, including bathrooms and kitchen.
• Purchase of new equipment including industrial-size refrigerator and freezer.
• Fixing broken equipment, including food warmers, stove and fryer.
• Re-negotiation of existing lease agreement with the WNY Puerto Rican and Hispanic Parade which more than doubled revenue from previous agreement.
• Partnership with welfare-to-work participants to upkeep maintenance of facility.
• Establishment of bilingual literacy program
• Increased participation of the Center’s subsidized lunch program.
• Increased participation of the center’s Bingo program
• Establishment of new revenue streams, including a donation box program at Niagara Cafe.
• Renewal of Community Development Block Grant funding.
• Secured financial support from private entities, including the Buffalo Metropolitan Federal Credit Union and H&R Block.
• Secured generous funding from elected officials, including the office of Councilman Rivera and Councilman Pridgen.
• Partnership with West Side Community Services and Concerned Ecumenical Ministries to establish West Side Seniors, an initiative which has introduced new programs and activities to engage the seniors and improve their quality of life.
• Agreement with Catholic Charities to assume responsibility over plumbing and other costs, thereby significantly reducing costs to Los Tainos.
• Negotiated $1 annual lease agreement Delta Development and La Casa De Los Tainos.
• Establish space rental for birthday parties, weddings, etc..
• Creation of website and social media presence.
All the while we established a sense of calm, trust and normalcy at the center – something that had been missing for years.
When the new board was established nearly 4 years ago, it inherited thousands of dollars in debt and it successfully cleared all outstanding debt up that point. This non-profit organization is ALWAYS in need of additional funding sources and individuals willing to step up to the plate and get involved. On Wednesday, March 25th, a new leadership will be established at the center and I encourage you to be part of the solution to help make the lives of the elderly better.
The future of Los Tainos is set atop a strong foundation and with the right leadership and guidance, I am certain that the best is yet to come. Get involved.