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Photo: Al Éxito website.
Photo: Al Éxito website.

A Latino assistance program in Iowa is shutting down due to lack of funding

Local nonprofit Al Éxito is ending its “Compa en Camino” program this month which offers a number of services such as financial assistance to Latino families.

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Due to a lack of funding, a nonprofit’s program created in March 2020 to help the local Latino community in Iowa during the pandemic is suspending its services. 

Local nonprofit, Al Éxito partners with local schools and organizations statewide to help Latino youth enter college and leadership roles. They’re ending its "Compa en Camino" program later this month.

Meaning "partners on the go,” the program offered a number of services such as money for housing, interpreters, tutoring, food and internet access. 

“Compa en Camino'' gave out $230,000 in financial assistance, including rent/mortgage payments for 56 families and reconnected utilities for 65 families, according to a statement from Al Éxito.

When schools began shutting down due to the pandemic in early 2020, the nonprofit conducted a survey of its students and figured out many didn't have internet at home, executive director Dawn Martinez Oropeza told Axios.

The program helped families get access to the internet but it became clear there were systematic gaps that hurt students and their families as a result, including lack of work, transportation, food and struggles paying utilities which have continued past 2020, Oropeza said.

Latinos are one of the fastest-growing populations in the state, but services provided aren't always accessible, including a translator or help for undocumented immigrants, Oropeza says.

At its peak, Compa en Camino acquired roughly $1 million in pandemic and disaster-related grants from local and national organizations, including United Way of Central Iowa, Mid-Iowa Health Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.

It helped Des Moines students and their families, K-12th grade but the lack of continued pandemic funding made it difficult to sustain the program, Oropeza says as recent fundraising requests also weren't fully granted.

A March survey of nonprofits nationwide showed they’d all expected lower fundraising amounts and new donors this year due to inflation and poor economic outlooks, according to Philanthropy News Digest. 

As pandemic relief funding began to run out, Al Éxito continued to fund the program including a full-time case manager, using operations and carryover funding, Oropeza told the Business Record in an email.

“A big bulk of the coordinator’s time was providing immediate assistance helping families navigate systems, connect to other organizations and resources, translate or interpret, and most importantly, listen to their story,” Oropeza said in the email.

Before the program is gone for good, Oropeza said Al Éxito would be seeking alternative pathways to sustainable funding such as developing an invoice system for interpretation and translation services. 

The nonprofit also applied for a grant, but as they only received a quarter of the amount requested, it is not enough for the program to continue.

“Many point to local nonprofits and mention their services for Latinos. However, there is a lack of understanding and an exaggeration of services being provided,” Oropeza wrote. 

“Most organizations do not have Latino leaders or staff, lack Spanish-speaking employees and materials, and do not have a working knowledge of immigration laws and access. Compa en Camino eliminated barriers for our families and provided the social-emotional support, connecting Spanish speakers to resources available in our community.”

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