December 27, 2010 | The Bay City Times | Original Article

Nexteer engineer, Michigan Works! employee among growing Hispanic leaders in Saginaw

SAGINAW — Hispanics represent Saginaw County’s third-largest ethnic group, but they aren’t doing enough to become community leaders, according to some Saginaw Hispanics.

Monica Reyes and Larry Rodarte are working to change that. Two years ago, they created the Great Lakes Bay Hispanic Leadership Institute, modeled after an African-American leadership program operating in Saginaw.

“Our goal is to provide an opportunity for young adults to become leaders, and we provide programs to help them become visionary leaders,” said Reyes. “One of our goals of this program is to have each individual understand their commitment to their community as leaders.”

Reyes is a director of the Office of Continuing Education and Professional Development at Saginaw Valley State University and Rodarte is the publisher of Mi Gente magazine.

According to 2000 U.S. Census data, about 7 percent of Saginaw’s population is Hispanic. That compares to about 4 percent in Bay County and just over 2 percent in Genesee County.

In Saginaw, Rodarte said he noticed a big decline in membership in Hispanic civic organizations, including the Union Civica Mexicana, the American G.I. Forum and the Mid-Michigan Hispanic Business Association, now called the Great Lakes Bay Hispanic Business Association. Rodarte said organization leaders grew old and many young people were apathetic to keeping the groups active.

Rodarte was called on by four past presidents of the business association to help bring change. He decided engaging young people was the best approach to saving an association that had dwindled to five members.

“What I found as I started recruiting members back in 2009 was that the organization was truly energized when we collaborated with the leadership institute and got youth involved,” he said. “There was an increase in not only members, but energy and motivation in regard to participation.”

The Hispanic Leadership Institute now meets formally once a month to cover different topics.

Reyes said the first few meetings involve helping individuals find themselves and their strengths. Later, they learn networking, time management and conflict resolution.

“Integrated with each is a community service project and cultural understanding of cultural differences,” she said.

The Hispanic Leadership Institute works closely with groups such as the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, Dow Chemical Co., Hemlock Semiconductor Group, the Saginaw Area Chamber of Commerce, Prudential Financial and others.

Fernando Garcia, 26, is an engineer with Nexteer Automotive in Saginaw’s Buena Vista Township and is completing his current course work with the Leadership Institute. He graduates from the program in January with 19 others.

“They came to do an assignment at Nexteer and that’s how I found out about it,” Garcia said.

“It’s helped me understand what to do in a leadership position,” said Garcia, who noted he had just accepted a supervising role in one of Nexteer’s production departments.

In addition to his duties at Nexteer, Garcia is set to become the youngest president of the Great Lakes Bay Hispanic Business Association.

Carmen Stricker, 40, also is part of the Hispanic leadership graduating class. She applied to the institute to better her career and professional manners.

“I wanted to be involved with a group that had other professional, educated Hispanics,” she said. “It’s not always easy to find in the community.”

Stricker works at the Michigan Works! SVRC-JET program in Saginaw. She uses the network she’s gained from the leadership program to help people in her work program.

Stricker recently applied to the Somos Hispanos Board at Delta College. Somos Hispanos is a Latino program that Stricker says focuses on stories featuring influential Latinos around the community.

“A year ago I never would have even thought of that,” she said. “I never would have had the confidence to do that.”

The Hispanic Leadership Institute accepts ambassadors after an application process, which Reyes said includes an application and an essay detailing their desire to be a leader in the Hispanic community. She said they accept people who want to help themselves and their community, both personally and professionally.

“We really let the community know that these individuals are ready to serve the community and they’re committed,” said Reyes.