2018 was our fourth full year in existence. Our small staff of seven, which was mostly new in 2017, functioned like a well-oiled machine in 2018. We offered seven successful and well-attended events for our participants this year, including 2 weekend retreats, 3 one-day workshops, a holiday gathering, and a Fund/Spirit Raising event for the local community.
The OLAS community is currently very stable and solid. Participation has risen from an average of 17 per event in 2017 to an average of about 21 in 2018, with many regular participants who work hard to get to most or all events. Participants stay in touch regularly in our Facebook group, sharing photos and commentaries. Some participants regularly send messages just to check in, wish everyone well, and share how much they are looking forward to seeing one another again. In addition to our thriving Bay Area program, OLAS expanded into the Central Valley in 2018, offering two pilot workshops, both held at the CSU, Stanislaus campus, sponsored by the Ethnic Studies Department. Both events were small (8 and 14 people respectively) but meaningful for those who attended. These low numbers are to be expected, as we started at about this pace in our Bay Area program as well. In her first year as Finance Manager/Grant Writer, Adela Pedroza did a fabulous job sustaining our organization financially. Thanks to her hard work, we received our first foundation grant in 2018, in addition to two generous local grants.
All in all, 2018 was a wonderful year for OLAS. We continue to move forward in our mission to build community support and to respond to the mental health needs of Latin American LGBT immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
With kind regards, Diana Shapiro, Program Founder
2018 Accomplishments and Highlights
In this wonderful year, we have made a difference in the lives of LGBT asylum seekers and immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela and Columbia.
The OLAS community was connected and strong throughout the year due to peer support on Facebook and informal participant gatherings.
Staff implemented two weekend retreats, three one-day events plus our annual holiday party for a total of 50 participants.
We added one new facilitator, Pedro Felix, LCSW, who has been volunteering with OLAS on and off since 2015. Pedro is studying for his Doctorate in Psychology and is currently the Director of Adult Services of La Familia Counseling Center in Hayward, CA.
Melanie DeMore, a well-known local singer/songwriter, honored us, for the fourth consecutive year, by being the headliner at our 2018 fundraiser. Madelina y los Carpinteros joined us for the second time and were a big hit. Two participants offered moving testimonials.
After the fundraiser, a dinner was held for participants and staff. Twenty participants and 3 staff members attended people attended the dinner.
We held two pilot programs in the Central Valley, as part of our effort to expand our services into that area. The events were held in Turlock, at the CSU, Stanislaus Campus. We remain committed to boosting our presence in the Central Valley region.
Our Advisory Committee remains solid in its commitment to serving the LGBT Latin American immigrant community.
Abigail Rich: Abigail is an attorney interested in the intersection of immigration legal services and mental healthcare for survivors of trauma. She is currently a Liman Fellow at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, where she primarily represents asylum seekers escaping gender-based violence and anti-LGBTQ persecution. She previously worked with immigrants and refugees at Greater Boston Legal Services, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, where she earned a JD. Abigail received her undergraduate degree in art history, anthropology, and studio art.
Joy E. Carlson, MPH: Joy Carlson has been active in the non-profit sector for over 40 years, working primarily in the public and environmental health arena. She is currently Principal at J. Carlson Consulting which provides strategic planning, organizational development, program and policy development, and evaluation services to non-profit organizations. Prior to founding J. Carlson Consulting, she was the founding director for the Children’s Environmental Health Network, a national organization dedicated to preventing toxic exposures to children. She has worked at local, state, national and international levels with a broad range of constituencies and sectors. She has a special interest in supporting organizations and staff committed to change. Laura Guevara Laura is an immigrant, a Salvadoran-American educator with 13 years of experience in schools. Her interest in social-justice was nurtured by her mother’s community activism in Chelsea, MA - a sanctuary city. She has taught in a number of communities including The Bronx, Brooklyn, Oakland and Singapore. Over the past five years , she has focused on teaching teachers and students how to leverage technology to communicate, collaborate, innovate and make an impact. Laura and her husband and two childrenhave made the Bay Area their home and are committed to contributing to its communities in a positive way. She is honored to be contributing to OLAS as part of the advisory committee.
Scott MacPherson: Scott is an Environmental Manager for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where he works in the design and permitting of environmentally-friendly utility projects. He has over 25 years experience in the environmental field, including in political organizing for environmental justice issues. He holds a MS in Natural Resources with a concentration in environmental advocacy, and a BS in Psychology, both from the University of Michigan.
Sylvia Soriano: Sylvia is from Bogotá, Colombia. She came to the U.S. at age 16, and has been living in the Bay Area for 37 years. She is an artist and a gardener, and is interested in the interrelation between art, health and nature and the regenerative effect it has at all levels. As a member of the LGBTQ community, she is honored and pleased to collaborate with OLAS and its participants.
In 2019, OLAS will focus on expanding our Central Valley program while at the same time keeping our Bay Area program solid. Our Bay Area program is thriving, serving 50 people with an average attendance of about 21 per event. The Central Valley program is brand new, having just begun in the fall of 2018. We have high hopes for expansion, since very few resources exist for the LGBT immigrant community in the Central Valley. The challenge can be in finding participants and earning their trust, in order to make it possible for them to attend an OLAS event. The LGBT immigrant community in the Central Valley experiences far more discrimination than those who live in the Bay Area. They are more isolated and more frightened to come forward. Therefore, in the year 2019, we will look for creative ways to reach the LGBT immigrant community in the Central Valley and invite them into the OLAS program.
Here in the Bay Area, our program has outgrown the buildings in which we used to host our events. Therefore, we have new event locations for 2019 in order to accommodate bigger groups. These locations are still quite modest given our limited means, but they are sufficient and affordable. We would love to find the funds for a nicer retreat location for our two weekend retreats per year! As it is, we use Girl Scout properties, with bunkbeds and mattresses that are too soft for most adults to enjoy a good night´s sleep. However, we have been making the most of this situation for four years now and will continue to do so until we can afford otherwise!
For our annual fundraiser this year, we will be honored with a performance by the Hummingbird Folk Dance Ensemble (Ensamble Folclórico Colibri). This dance ensemble is a mostly gay and trans group focusing on traditional Mexican folk dancing. We are excited to have them! All in all, 2019 looks to be a promising year. In the Bay Area, our focus will be on strengthening our connections as a group, and improving the overall emotional well-being of our participants by offering them tools that they can put to use in their day-to-day lives. In the Central Valley, where our program is far newer, our focus for now is on expansion and forming a core group of 25 or more participants.
OLAS would like to thank the following individuals for their donations in 2018: John Taft, Adela Pedroza, Greg Cummings, Claudia Huenchuleo, Monica Alexandra, Diana Shapiro, Lauren Phillips