Center staff member recognized for commitment to community

Gladys Godinez seeks out opportunities, and constantly strives to make a difference with her work—which has led to her receiving the Special Recognition Award for “outstanding vital contribution to the Latino-Hispanic community in Nebraska.”

The community organizing associate for the Center for Rural Affairs was honored during the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Hispanic Heritage Breakfast this fall.

“Gladys is a very committed leader to the communities she serves,” said Yesenia Peck, president of the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “She continues to make a difference every day.”

Some of Gladys’ notable work includes being active in the Lexington, Nebraska, area to increase the Latino vote, founding the United by Culture Festival and The Trinidad Center, and leading the Center’s relief efforts following the immigration raid in O'Neill, Nebraska.

Also at the Center, Gladys focuses on inclusion and building bridges between various cultures. In 2016, she started the Trinidad Center, named after her grandmother, which became an official nonprofit in 2017. The Trinidad Center’s purpose—immigration advocacy and civic engagement—ties back to Gladys’ work at the Center.

“She is overcoming challenges and seeing the opportunities for our Hispanic-Latino community in Nebraska,” said Yesenia. “We recognize and value all her efforts, and we are blessed to have her in the Nebraska community.”

Gladys says there is a continued growth of immigrants and refugees in Nebraska’s small towns and communities, and she strives to welcome them and help them find the resources needed to succeed in their new lives.

“I moved to Nebraska two years ago, but made sure to come with a purpose,” she said. “I want my children to be proud of who they are and to be comfortable in their skin. For me to successfully do that, I have to try my hardest to make their environment welcoming and inclusive.”

Gladys appreciates being recognized, and thanks the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for their work to encourage Latino leaders throughout Nebraska, as well as others, like herself, who have stepped up in their communities to make them more inclusive.

“It was truly special to know that the work I have done and continue to do as a Latina has a foundation,” she said. “I work with no intention to receive awards or recognition. My work comes from the passion and love I have for my immigrant community.”

And, Gladys sees no sign of her work slowing down, with big ideas for 2019 including plans for events in Lexington to encourage education and interaction between cultures. She, along with others on a planning committee at the Trinidad Center, will organize the third United by Culture Festival, as well. Also in the works is the development of an Inclusive Leadership and Mentorship program to offer in various rural communities.

“The inclusion work I do focuses on increasing awareness and understanding of not only others, but also yourself and working together to make a better community,” said Gladys. “My work in inclusion and immigrant advocacy has roots in Nebraska way before I was born, and it will continue to have a future after I am gone.”

Also recognized by the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this fall were Sergio Sosa, executive director of Heartland Workers Center; Karina Perez, executive director of Centro Hispano of Columbus and Center for Rural Affairs advisory board member; Sandra Barrera, community vitality extension educator from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Grand Island; and legacy honoree, Yolanda Nuncio, former commissioner with the Latino American Commission and current advisor to Peter Kiewitt Scholars at University of Nebraska-Kearney, who has been a key figure in Gladys’ development as a professional.

Highlights of Gladys’ work:

Seeking opportunities

Latino vote

“Since 2016, we have registered more than 150 new voters, canvassed, and done phone banking in the Lexington community. I also had the opportunity to present ‘Voter 101’ to the Lexington Senior High School American Government class.”

United by Culture Festival

“The Trinidad Center hosted a conversation on how to prepare for an immigration raid in Lexington. Through that initial conversation, and several meetings after that, three members thought one of the steps we need to make is to celebrate and unify our community. Once we said we were going to do a festival, we worked really hard to make our vision a reality. We have successfully held two festivals with 1,000 people in attendance for both.

Overcoming challenges

O’Neill raid

“Through my immigrant advocacy work, I have been in communication with community organizers through the state. We heard about increased U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity in Nebraska, so I reached out to my program director and requested to assist in any future raid response that will happen in rural Nebraska. I was given the go-ahead.

After the raid happened in O’Neill, I was one of three main organizers on the ground developing relationships with the O’Neill community. We worked closely with the Immigrant Legal Center, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Grand Island Multicultural Center, and various organizations to develop an immediate list of needs, and brought resources together to meet those needs.”

Constantly striving to make a difference

“Since Aug. 8, I have been the main organizer at O’Neill and collaborated with the O’Neill Public School District, First United Methodist Church, and the O’Neill Ministerial Association, alongside various community volunteers. We successfully raised funds to pay for rent and utilities for two months, held a weekly food pantry, and offered access to a resource fair, back-to-school supplies, a mental health therapist, and other legal aid assistance.

It is heartening to see a small, rural community have key people who made all of this possible. We received statewide support and donations from communities such as Lexington, Wood River, Omaha, Grand Island, Gibbon, and Lincoln.”