Get ready for a safe event that brings the spirit of community we’ve all been craving! Latinos Salud will be unveiling its new Wilton Manors location through their Grand Opening event, Wednesday May 19th.
Latinos Salud’s first home 12 years ago was a tiny ‘casita’ at the back of a building, off an alley on Wilton Drive. (The whole agency was located where the kitchen for the restaurant Ethos sits today)
As more and more community members came to the agency for its free community services, Latinos Salud outgrew its tiny space. In 2010, the agency moved to a building with the horseshoe driveway on Wilton Drive, right across from The Manor. To make room for more services, the agency had to divide rooms several times, so that staff could provide tests, counseling, and now PrEP services simultaneously.
Despite COVID-19, last year was Latinos Salud’s busiest ever. Without enough rooms in its building, or parking in its lot, it was time to move again. Latinos Salud will welcome you to its new home, in the iconic building right next to Wilton Station, on NE 26th Street.
To maintain social distancing, they’ll have timed entries for the site tour. Latinos Salud plans to stage part of the event outdoors, too, with music and food.
It was a pleasure to sit down with Dr Stephen Fallon, Executive Director, for this exclusive Hotspots interview:
What made you decide that an agency like Latinos Salud was necessary?
Back in 2008, the state’s senior epidemiologist sounded an alarm: new HIV cases had risen by 185% among gay Latino youth in Broward County. It became clear that these youth were not comfortable, accessing prevention, education, or testing services. They didn’t want to walk into an agency or clinic, where no one looked like them or spoke their language.
We launched solely to close that specific gap in services: services by and mostly for gay Latinos. By the next year, we started adding staff and services for LGBT community members of all ages, and within a few years, expanded into Miami-Dade, first adding our Miami Beach location, and then our southwest location in Westchester.
How soon from your realization did you get to open the first office?
Because non-profits depend on grants that open up only every few years, we had to move quickly once we decided to become an agency. We had just five weeks: from the time we learned how severely HIV cases were rising in Broward’s gay Latino population, to the date that the only HIV grant in the state open for application was due. If we had missed that opportunity, the next one wasn’t coming around for another three years!
Founding the agency and writing the grant application required us to sprint: we had to incorporate our agency with the IRS and the state, get approved for non-profit status, recruit a representative Board of Directors, hold community focus groups to identify the best service approaches for the community, set up our first website, and research data and strategies needed to support our planned programs, which we plugged into our grant application. It literally came “down to the wire,” as in the fax line wire–remember those? We got our IRS tax approval letter—which was required to go in the grant package—by fax just 40 hours before the grant application was due!
You now have 3 offices throughout South Florida, how has your growth been?
Exciting, and exhausting! We grew to operate three locations because we want to make getting free services at Latinos Salud as convenient as possible. These two South Florida counties have huge populations (altogether 4.7 million people live in Miami-Dade and Broward), scattered over large regions (3.7 million square miles). South Florida doesn’t have good public transportation, so we have gridlock here pretty much everywhere. Having more locations puts at least one of the locations close to where you may live or work.
In addition to shortening travel time for community members as much as we can, we try to make each Latinos Salud location feel welcoming. When community members come through our doors—whether off the bus, out of their cars, or walking in—we want everyone to feel right “at home,” like they’re meeting a trusted friend for advice and connections.
Our staff deliver that message with every smile, and our facilities reinforce that message through their layout. Our staff, board, and some terrific volunteers have helped us with each expansion and move, whether it’s moving items, cheering up our walls with group photos, or even painting some of our locations. You won’t encounter the dreaded sliding glass waiting room window or hard plastic waiting room chairs like you’d face at most clinics.
Your staff seems to be so dedicated. How do you go about hiring your team members?
Here’s our secret sauce: our most important hiring criteria in choosing a candidate are their connection to the community, and their passion for service. For most of our positions, we can train everything else. There’s no training course for compassion and respect
Your yearly Gala’s have become busier and busier and are now sold-out events. Tell me about them, and when is the next one?
Our Gala this past February was mostly conducted on-line. Our Grand Opening event this month will give everyone some of that Gala feel, and the sense of community we’ve all been craving.
The Grand Opening event takes place Wednesday evening, May 19th, from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. We’ll first gather safely under a big tent outside on the lawn, for hors d’oeuvres and music (weather permitting). From there, small groups will enjoy timed tours of the new building (with social distancing).
How has the agency changed over the years?
We opened with just two full time staff members. We’ve grown to 36 staff. We currently offer over a dozen services, most recently including free COVI19 vaccination. The agency has become more layered, and the management of 14 grants at once is complex. Yet we make sure that each community member’s experience at any of our locations remains the same as 12 years ago. You’re never “another number” at Latinos Salud. Our staff members treat with respect and appreciation.
How excited are you about your new, iconic location?
The story behind this historic building is fascinating. We’ll relate some of that story at our Grand Opening event. The distinctive architecture was a natural fit for a design firm that occupied it for years. It’s also a great space for our community services: bigger rooms, more privacy, and space to give each staff member on our growing team their own desk. At last!
Follow these simple steps:
How can someone get their exclusive invitation to the Grand Opening?
- Before May 15th, make a new donation of at least $50 to our Florida AIDS Walk team. Just Google “Florida AIDS Walk, then click to Get Involved, Donate, and pick Latinos Salud. (Even though the Walk has already passed, our friends at AHF have kept the spirit going, and will match your donation to our team!)
- In the box that allows “message to participant,” just write “new building.” That’s how we’ll know that your donation is related to our event.
We’ll send your invitation to the email and/or mobile phone you provide when you make your donation. Our new location will be at 1401 NE 26th Street, Wilton Manors, FL 33305
You’ll get first look at the new space that will serve the community better, and best of all, your generous gift will be matched by the Florida AIDS Walk!
For more information on this great agency, go to Latinossalud.org.