LUNA: LatinXCEL Fund grant helps increase staff power and campaign reach

LUNA: LatinXCEL Fund grant helps increase staff power and campaign reach

When the City of San José breaks ground on construction of a new park in San José’s Tropicana-Lanai neighborhood in 2022, it will mark the culmination of LUNA’s longest-running project.

LUNA, or Latinos United for a New America, has been working for years to get the city to turn a vacant lot into a park for the community. Now a mural associated with the park has been completed, and the city is soliciting ideas for names. These projects exemplify LUNA’s local civic engagement work, which is driven by community members.

“We believe that organizing and mobilizing people comes from deep connections,” said Mayra Pelagio, executive director of LUNA.“People are more receptive to what their neighbor has to say than to someone who doesn’t live with them.”

Pelagio joined LUNA as an executive director in March 2021 and has proven to be an invaluable asset to her team with her strong community connections.

Capacity-Building Grants

LUNA group photoAmong other goals, LUNA’s LatinXCEL Fund grant from Silicon Valley Community Foundation will help facilitate Pelagio’s professional development. SVCF launched the LatinXCEL Fund in partnership with the Castellano Family Foundation in May 2021. The initiative calls for vastly increased funding for Silicon Valley’s Latinx community leaders and Latinx-led nonprofits.

With help from the grant, LUNA has expanded its staff, which now includes three paid staff members plus an immigration fellow. The grant is also being used to provide coaching for Pelagio and training for other team members.

“Funding professional development for middle managers, to help small nonprofits develop bench strength, was one of the goals of this round of funding,” said Manuel J. Santamaria, vice president of community action at SVCF.

SVCF’s focus on capacity-building – helping provide tools and intermediaries to help organizations with issues such as fundraising and executive coaching — particularly for Latino-led organizations, began in 2019. SVCF developed a relationship with the Castellano Family Foundation, which focuses on grants to Latinx organizations in Santa Clara County working in arts and culture, education and leadership development.

“One of the features of the LatinXCEL Fund is that it is unrestricted funding, enabling organizations to do the work that they prioritize to bolster their organization,” said Stuart C. Burden, vice president of corporate and foundation relations at SVCF.“That can be in terms of operations, training, or programming. We’ve gotten a very strong positive response. This is the relationship that organizations would like to be in with funders.”

Neighborhood Focus and Broader Campaigns

Strengthening staff will help with LUNA’s neighborhood-based campaigns. These campaigns are run by LUNA’s chapters, and they focus on issues identified by each community.

LUNA currently has three chapters, and it is working to start others.

  • The Tropicana chapter, in addition to advocating for the park, has worked on a neighborhood watch program.
  • The Santee chapter in San José has done significant work on tenants’ rights, organizing residents to fight evictions and educating them about their rights.
  • A newly formed chapter in East Palo Alto is collaborating with other neighborhood groups on issues such as food distribution and low-cost internet.

“We believe that community members have to get active civically,” Pelagio said. “They need to get to know their councilmember and supervisor.”

LUNA also engages on issues that go beyond a single neighborhood, such as immigration, housing and transportation. The group works on voter education and host candidate forums.

LUNA also worked to encourage participation in the 2020 census, with help from a Civic Participation grant from SVCF. And to amplify this work, SVCF produced a video in Spanish and English to show how LUNA created and performed skits as part of its civic engagement outreach strategy, explaining the voting process and addressing questions from community members.

“A lot of our community members don’t read or write, so having a way to present information in this accessible manner is really helpful to explain complicated processes,” Pelagio said.

Most recently, LUNA received a grant from SVCF’s Environment Fund. And looking to the future, LUNA is working with communities in San José on the displacement of residents from mobile home parks. The group is also looking ahead to what will happen when the BART extension into San José is completed.

“We’re expecting that it’s going to cause a lot of displacement,” Pelagio said. They want to help neighborhoods that may be affected. “We want to make sure they’re united.”

With the capacity-building grant from SVCF’s LatinXCEL Fund and continued professional development for staff, Pelagio and her team are able to be more planful around these upcoming challenges and confident they can continue advancing equity in their three chapters and beyond.


LUNA Picnic