New North Citizens Council celebrates 50 years of service to Springfield residents
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The New North Citizens Council — a Springfield, Massachusetts, nonprofit agency offering bilingual social services to Hampden county — is celebrating 50 years in operation this month.
Maria Ligus, executive director of the agency, said New North serves a diverse community. Ligus who has led the council for a decade, added that this diversity is reflected in the staff as well.
"Our board members represent 98% people of color. Our executive leadership is comprised of 100% people of color. We have 145 employees and 90% are people of color and 95% are women," she said. "So when people tell me, from other organizations, 'I can't find anybody [to hire]'. No, this is proof."
The agency celebrated its anniversary with a gala at MGM Springfield on Friday where they honored various community leaders.
Ligus said New North was founded as a neighborhood council in 1973 by the late Barbara Rivera. It provided bilingual social services for everything from programs for expectant and new mothers to HIV and AIDS health initiatives and served as a liaison between the community and city hall when it came to the social and economic needs of the neighborhood.
"On the heels of the civil rights movement and the movement for Latino rights Barbara and a small group of committed individuals created the council. At that time, we had about 30 employees and our operating budget was around $3 million," she said.
The agency now has more than 100 employees and an operating budget closer to $13 million. There are also plans for a new community center, the Barbara Rivera Family & Community Center, on Chestnut Street. The agency serves the 11,000 residents living in the city's North End and more than 5,000 residents from across the entire city through its walk-in services.
The event's keynote speaker was Gladys Oyola-López
, appointed as the city's first Latina election commissioner and city clerk. She shared her story of growing up in the New North offices while her mother worked for the agency.
"You can say that I'm one of the poster children for New North... I attended the New North summer camp as a kid. My mother worked as a case manager at New North. My first volunteer experiences were all at New North," she said. "The first time I ever served on a board was on the board of directors of the New North Citizens Council. My first job at City Hall in elections was because of New North, and so many years later, my daughters also attended the summer camp at New North."
Oyola-López said the agency continues to serve the community and she is proud to have gotten her start there.
"The New North Citizens Council has always been an incubator for greatness, an incubator for civic engagement, a shining example of what any agency dedicated to public service should be," she said.