By Momar G. Visaya
NEW YORK – After a successful launch in Los Angeles and a subsequent pitstop in San Francisco, “Bayanihan sa Amerika,” a conference of Filipino community centers and associations in the United States gathered more than a hundred community leaders at the Philippine Center Saturday, Oct. 20.
The conference aims to gather owners or administrators of Filipino community centers, leaders of Filipino associations, officers of Filipino-American chambers of commerce, and other institutionalized Filipino entities, to enhance networking and foster cooperation.
The conference hosted by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) and the Philippine Consulate General, New York discussed, among other issues, sustainability factors for non-profit organizations, ways of bridging cultural and generation gaps for the new generation of Fil-Ams and new strategies for development assistance in the Philippines.
Consul General Cecilia Rebong welcomed the conference participants while Deputy Consul General Millie Thomeczek read Ambassador Willy Gaa’s keynote address.
The conference, according to Gaa, is timely and “brings to the fore the close and unbreakable bond that ties Filipino Americans to the Philippines.”
“It comes when more than 2.5 million Filipinos and Filipino Americans residing in the United States are consolidating and beginning to flex their political muscle. Indeed, it will not be long when the United States Congress will have among their ranks an elected official of Filipino descent,” Gaa’s statement said.
The first plenary session gathered speakers to discuss the situation of Filipino community associations in Northeast USA.
Vladimir James Manuel, founding chair of Collaborative Opportunities for Raising Empowerment (CORE), reported that most of the Filipino community associations in the consulate’s jurisdiction fall under the major categories of province, profession, local, alumni and religion.
There is an estimated 4,000 organizations in the entire United States, with the tri-state area accounting for more than 500.
Manuel posed some questions, among them, if we need all 4,000 or so of these organizations. “Do we need to come together as a community so that we can align and coordinate our efforts? What specific issue would galvanize is as a community?” he asked.
Audience response ranged from “behavior” to “veterans issues” to “political empowerment”.
According to ConGen Rebong, out of the more than 500 organizations that they have on their list, “only more than 100 can be considered visible”.
Dr. Jean Lobell, co-founder of Filipino American Human Services, Inc. (FAHSI), talked about the effectiveness and sustainability of nonprofit organizations in the community.
Citing Census data such as Filipino families’ median income ($69,228) versus the city’s ($38,293), Lobell also focused on the fact that 6% of the community lived below the poverty line and 40% of the senior citizens have limited English skills, while 7% did not finish high school.
“To achieve greater impact, there needs to be purposeful planning, viability and sustainability,” Lobell explained.
Rey Padilla completed the panel for the first session and talked about effective fund-raising, financial management and internal controls for the organizations. He provided tips for organization’s to be able to access funds from the local to the state to the federal level.
“We do not know they exist. We do not know how to access, and much more manage the funds once we have it,” Rebong said, as she asked the participants if there is a need for a workshop where leaders will be taught to write proposals and access funds, which the consulate can organize.
“Fund-raising in our community is just amongst ourselves. We should start to learn to access funds para hindi tayo-tayo na lang ang naghihingian sa isa’t isa. Sayang naman lahat ng mga taxes na ibinabayad ninyo,” Rebong added.
The New York leg was part of a series of “Bayanihan sa Amerika” conferences organized by the Commission on Filipino Overseas, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Tourism, and Department of Trade and Industry.
The conference also endeavored to develop strategies to enhance Filipino cultural visibility through programs that will promote Philippine culture and tourism and identify ways by which Filipino community centers and associations can assist Philippine development through resources and knowledge transfer.
It was also an opportunity to create more awareness on business and investment opportunities in the Philippines as both Trade Representative Josephine Romero and Tourism Director Emma Ruth Yulo talked about prospects for Philippine products ad services in the US and enhancing prospects of Philippine tourism through community-led marketing and promotion, respectively. (AJ)