A non-profit opens the doors of opportunity for local Hispanics. It just won $50,000

Established in 2010, UnidosNow is a non-profit organization that serves Manatee and Sarasota counties by opening the doors of opportunity for members of under-served Hispanic and Latino communities.

Educational programs, outlets for civic engagement and help integrating into U.S. society are just some of the services that the group offers for those pursuing the American dream.

On Monday, UnidosNow was recognized for its efforts with the award of a $50,000 grant from Bank of America.

The grant was awarded as part of the bank’s new Neighborhood Champions program, and UnidosNow was one of just 42 organizations selected nationwide to receive the honor.

It was also a total surprise.

Bank of America representatives invited UnidosNow board members and other community leaders to a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at Pier 22 Restaurant on Monday evening.

The night opened with a recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month and the Hispanic community from bank staff.

“This is a moment to reaffirm our commitment to invest in our Hispanic and Latino employees, clients and community and celebrate the lasting contributions of Latinos within the company and society,” said Jamie Kahns.

“Hispanic Latinos are the fasted growing population in the U.S.,” said Paula Rincon, who is also a member of the bank’s Hispanic and Latino Organization for Leadership and Advancement. “Delivering products and services that meet the needs of our Hispanic and Latino clients is a priority.”

UnidosNow executive director Luz Corcuera also spoke.

“We are so proud of the many contributions that the Latino community provides in Sarasota-Manatee and in the whole region. Most of the jobs that are related to construction, agriculture and healthcare rely on the sacrifices of many Latino families. We are so proud of our heritage, our contributions and our work ethic. We want to make sure we live up to our mission to empower Latinos to live the American dream.”

Then it was time for the surprise.

Mike McCoy, president of the bank’s Sarasota-Manatee market, called Corcuera back up to the podium and unveiled an oversized check paid to the order of UnidosNow — and worth $50,000.

“We appreciate what you’re doing, we believe in what you’re doing and we look forward to your expansion into Manatee County,” McCoy said.

The room erupted in cheers and applause.

Senior staff from within the bank’s Sarasota-Manatee market consulted with local community leaders and organizations to select UnidosNow, according to McCoy.

A beneficiary of one of the group’s programs was also present at the celebration.

Bella Macias, a senior at Braden River High School, said that being a part of UnidosNow’s Future Leaders Academy was a great experience and helped her prepare for college.

“I’m so thankful to UnidosNow,” Macias said. “I always advertise them everywhere I go and tell others to join.”

Macias, an outer space enthusiast who wears the solar system on a bracelet around her wrist, has applied to Princeton University and University of Florida and plans on becoming an astrophysicist.

“She is just going to go places,” Corcuera said of Macias.

As for the grant money, part of it will be used to help Corcuera and team fund some exciting new plans.

The group intends to expand its outreach to families in Bradenton and Manatee County, and they will start with an area of need around Southeast High School.

Corcuera says that many parents of Latino students do not realize what opportunities are available to their children during and after public school education, and that’s where UnidosNow can help.

“We want the families to dream big along with their kids. It’s not difficult; it’s not impossible; it’s doable,” Corcuera said.

In addition to academics, the new outreach will also focus on overall health and well-being for students and families.