Executive Director of La Luz Center.
La Luz Center executive director Juan Hernandez was raised in the barrio of East Los Angeles. He earned a B.A. from UC Riverside, a fellowship in management leadership from New York, and an M.A. in psychology and organization development from Sonoma State University. Juan served as director of educational programs at the Calistoga Family Center, and, while in Calistoga, was elected to the board of the Napa Community Foundation and the Napa Valley Hispanic Network. Juan has been appointed a Sonoma County First 5 Commissioner, and he serves on the Sonoma Sheriff’s Advisory Group, the Sonoma Valley Health Roundtable, Portrait of Sonoma County Leadership Team, and the Latino Leaders of Sonoma County. He took over as executive director of La Luz Center in 2012. Juan and his wife Veronica recently welcomed the arrival of their first child, Emanelli. We asked him to give us some insight into La Luz’s important work.
La Luz was founded in 1985 to provide support to a large migrant Latino community in the Sonoma Valley. How has your client base changed over the years?
Our client base has changed in relation to the economic situation of the community and immigration rhetoric in the political realm. Just after La Luz Center started, the 1987 immigration reform offered an opportunity for legalization and we focused on getting our Latino community ready for that process. Meanwhile, we were encountering more and more needs but also more opportunities and possibilities. This combination allowed La Luz Center to finally be the identity of the invisible Latino Community.
Nowadays, the economy is getting better but the immigration policy has gotten more strict. We now have a less transient, migrant Latino community and a more settled Latino community in the Valley. The Latino population has put down roots and its needs have grown more complex. The shift has been from offering emergency services to educating the community on how to integrate by learning how to navigate the American system of support. This has affected the work La Luz Center does by shifting our focus to more systems-change work and influencing services providers and policy in health, education, and financial security for Latino families in the valley.
What, in your estimation is La Luz’s greatest success to date?
La Luz Center is the realization of a dream of many bilingual volunteers who worked diligently and successfully to serve the needs of the Latino community by offering a friendly, helpful place. Clients not only receive help but also respect and hope. Our greatest success is not losing this focus over our 29 years of existence.
You had your druthers, La Luz Center would be . . .
. . . a backbone organization in Sonoma Valley. Seeking to expand our impact and build a stronger community presence, we would increase focus on other key external activities such as building public will, advancing policy, and mobilizing funding with a focus on the Latino community.
We would be able to solve problems in the with the Latino community versus filling a need.