Home » Blog » Providing Support in Unprecedented Times: Letter from the Executive Director

Providing Support in Unprecedented Times: Letter from the Executive Director

  ·  Sylvia Puente

Friends and partners,

I wish you and your loved ones peace, resiliency, and fortitude during this challenging time.

The Forum’s staff, as you probably already know, is currently working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak. After a short adjustment period, we’re now settled into our new home offices and regular teleconference meetings. But here’s what hasn’t changed: We remain as available as ever to you as a resource for accurate, reliable information and analysis on issues affecting the Latino community in Illinois, and this global crisis is certainly no exception.

Right now, you can visit our website for a wide-ranging list of COVID-19 resources that we’re updating every day. These include the latest facts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as guides, donation funds, and relevant contact information. We’ll keep you up-to-date on how this pandemic is affecting housing, immigration, schools, child care, legislation, and more, locally and nationally—and what you can do.

I don’t want to understate the potential of what this unprecedented event could mean for our community. Latinos in Illinois and nationwide are in a particularly vulnerable position right now, facing job loss, uncertain futures, and conflicting obligations between work and child care. Sixty percent of Latino workers earn under $15 per hour (many within the suddenly wounded cash economy), and 20 percent have no health insurance—the highest rate among all racial-ethnic groups. The implications could be catastrophic, especially when you also consider those who are (or have family who are) undocumented.

One organization executive director I spoke with last weekend, who works with day laborers and temporary workers, said they are passing out $100 gift cards just so people can eat for a few days.

This week, we are hosting a call to discuss our community’s needs with 120 community organizations in our network. We’ll have a better picture after this, but there are already some clear measures that we can take right now, though this is not an exhaustive list and we know our steps will continue to shift along with new information as it keeps coming in. We’ll generate recommendations, then distribute them to you and to philanthropy to assist the network of over 100 organizations that we work with on a regular basis. (Feel free to hit that ‘Donate’ button if you would like to contribute to any of this.) There is a need to:

  • Provide flexible emergency resources to organizations that they can then distribute to local community members. Consider gift cards for essential services like grocery stores.

  • Provide assistance to small businesses, especially those that file with ITIN numbers and those in the cash economy.

  • Ensure that healthcare access, especially COVID-19 testing and mental health assistance, is available to staff of community organizations, community members, and workers who are now jobless.

  • Increase advocacy for the people that community organizations serve if they receive notices from landlords or mortgage companies because they haven’t been able to pay rent or their mortgage.

  • Provide these people with basic services, food, rent and mortgage assistance, or utility assistance however possible.

The Forum is particularly concerned right now with the wellbeing of small nonprofits and those serving low-wage and undocumented workers. To that end, I’d like to make sure that you and your organizations are aware of the Chicago COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, which was built by the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Chicago to support nonprofits serving the most vulnerable in our region. Learn more about the fund here, and to be considered for the fund, click here.

This crisis has forced its way into all of our lives, and for us, at an eerily serendipitous moment: the start of the 2020 Census response period. The importance of the public-health benefits at stake in this Census have never been more pronounced. Luckily, it has never been easier to complete your Census from home: This is the first to be primarily conducted online, and the traditional options of mail and phone remain available and easy, too. We’re stressing this part even more now, and we ask that you communicate the same for your networks: Complete your Census promptly, for everyone in your household, and avoid a Census taker knocking on your door!

So yes, amidst this sudden shift, we’re also staying focused on our current projects. Our advocacy work for English Learner students, namely, is in full stride. We hosted our formal briefing of the groundbreaking study “English Learners in Chicago Public Schools: A New Perspective,” conducted by the UChicago Consortium with guidance from the Forum. Held at the University Club of Chicago, we summarized and broke down the report’s findings, which showed that English Learners in CPS have been achieving impressive, game-changing academic results for years. I was privileged to join a guest panel discussion to cap it off.

We punctuated a big quarter with two major contributions to Crain’s Chicago Business. For the publication’s “Forum” (no relation) section, which tackles a different current issue every month with deep reporting and guest columns, we served as a key source on their latest: racial gaps. In this issue, you’ll find my column expounding on how the Latino educational opportunity gap comes at the expense of everyone in Illinois, as well as a longer, fantastically reported story by Kari Lyderson and Anabel Mendoza about the racial lines dictating Chicago’s residential divides, for which I was interviewed.

At this pivotal moment, the Forum will continue to be a resource and join with you in fostering a spirit of cooperation and compassion for all those in need in our city, state, and global communities. Now more than ever, we’re committed to providing support, and we appreciate yours.