For more than a century, Neighborhood House has been a fixture of support for those new to St. Paul, Minn., providing food, housing, education and youth support services.
Elda Macias, senior director, Customer Insights and Experience Design at Securian Financial, sits on the Neighborhood House board of directors, supporting the organization’s primary focus to help immigrant and refugee families.
Like many nonprofit organizations, Neighborhood House found its resources stretched during the global pandemic. Here, Elda reflects on the organization’s mission, how it resonates personally with her and offers advice to others looking to get involved in their communities.
What led you to get involved with Neighborhood House? How long have you been involved with the organization?
I got involved with Neighborhood House in March 2019 as a member of the organization’s board of directors. Neighborhood House’s core services focus on helping immigrant and refugee families acclimate to a new environment by providing a series of services. What makes it different is that Neighborhood House focuses on the entire family, not just individuals, which helps everyone thrive.
One of the things that sold me on serving on the board was when I was taking a tour of Neighborhood House. We arrived at the pre-school where the president explained that the curriculum was custom-made for kids and parents who are not used to dropping off such young children for an entire day.
Many cultures outside of the United States don't have the same pre-school system, and the long days made children and parents nervous. The organization created the pre-school with that in mind and has been very successful in helping immigrant parents begin to understand the U.S. system.
This experience immediately made me think of my mother who was a newly arrived immigrant to the U.S. when she had to drop me off at pre-school. For me, it was a fun, new experience, but for her, I never considered how nerve-wracking it must have been. I'm sure it is for any parent, but for my mom, she was in a new land, with new customs and a new language. It must have been very difficult, but she was a strong woman who had her child's best interest at heart.
What do you find appealing about what they do in our community?
Their mission — providing services for people who need it most — is compelling. They are there for basic needs, like a food market and housing support, which were the two most-used services in 2020.
They also support families as they navigate to education, youth programs, and health and well-being. Like Securian Financial, the organization has been around for over 100 years and has served multiple waves of immigrants and refugees finding a home in St. Paul.
What are your responsibilities as a Neighborhood House board member?
I help provide governance oversight for our five-year strategic plan, which was launched in 2019. I also serve on our branding committee and on the development/fundraising committee.
How has Neighborhood House responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Like most organizations, Neighborhood House had to change how they operate to comply with social distancing and various government mandates. However, the need to serve the community didn’t go away — in fact, it increased, especially for food and housing support.
We were able to keep the food market open by adapting a no-contact, curbside model for drive-up and walk-through clients. They also suspended two policies that had allowed only one visit per family per month and limited food market access to families from certain zip codes. By eliminating these policies, we now support more people in neighborhoods across the Twin Cities area.
While the state of Minnesota suspended evictions during the pandemic, landlords are continuing to fill out eviction paperwork, meaning people could lose their homes once the order is lifted.
We’ve found that this is affecting younger households and those who tend to work in industries hurt most by the pandemic. The housing support Neighborhood House provides includes emergency financial support, housing inspections and mediation between tenants and landlords to help our families retain their homes.
Aside from Neighborhood House, are there other organizations you’re active with?
Neighborhood House is the only board I’m currently sitting on, but I’m widely active in the Latino community. In the past I’ve served on the boards of LatinoLEAD and committees for the Latino Economic Development Center. I’ve also sat on the board of WomenVenture in the past.
What advice do you give others who are interested in getting active with a nonprofit organization? What are important things to keep in mind?
You’ve got to be passionate about the work that the organization does and make sure it’s a good fit personally. A great way to explore if an organization will be a good fit is to volunteer on a committee before joining the board. This gives you the opportunity to see it from the inside out. I’d also recommend understanding what the focus of the board is — for example, fundraising or oversight — and find out if that work excites you.