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Director Has Vision For La Casa

August 29, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer

Through her office window on Wethersfield Avenue, the new executive director of La Casa de Puerto Rico has an expansive view of one of Hartford's largest Latino neighborhoods.

As she watches residents waiting for the bus, shopping or hanging out in nearby South Green Park, Candida Flores said she's thought a lot about the types of services and support the agency could provide to improve their lives.

"It's a matter of people not knowing their potential or how to solve problems," she said. "It's about having a sense of ownership."

It is not by chance that Flores has landed here. For much of her professional life, the 54-year-old has tended to the health, housing and employment needs of her fellow Puerto Ricans.

She served 16 years as executive director of the Hispanic Health Council; was an assistant to Gov. Lowell P. Weicker for urban affairs; ran a development corporation in her hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico; dabbled in city politics as the chief of staff for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano; and served families transitioning from welfare-to-work at the Connecticut Council of Family Service Agencies in Rocky Hill.

As La Casa's new leader, Flores said she will continue to advocate for Puerto Ricans, while working to strengthen the 36-year-old agency.

"When I was a young professional, La Casa was the voice of the Latino community," said Flores, who resides in New Britain. "I think we have deviated from that and I would like to see us return to that."

Over the past 20 years, La Casa turned much of its attention to real estate and property management as a means to generate income. While making money is necessary, keeping to the agency's mission of supporting the Puerto Rican community should be its priority, Flores said.

"If you look around, a lot of social service agencies that get involved in property management don't end up doing so well," she said. "I want to find the area that we do well and stick to that."

Helping Puerto Ricans to take control of their lives and ultimately their future as a community is what she believes La Casa does best, Flores said, and she plans to accomplish this through economic development and self-advocacy.

"If people don't believe in themselves, that they don't have rights, they won't have the belief that they can start their own business," Flores said. "There is an interest [in economic development] but not the know-how. I think we can help them."

Members of La Casa's board of directors say they are excited about Flores' appointment, and that they fully support her plans for the agency's future.

"She is helping us to learn how to reinvent the wheel, in a sense, and go back to providing services to the community, which is what La Casa had always done," said board President William Newton.

Newton said he spent an exhausting year searching for a new director, while rejecting suggestions by members of the Latino community to merge with other social service agencies or to simply shut La Casa's doors.

"We are trying to revive the agency and make it stronger again," he said. "We are lucky to be able to hire a new executive director ... it's not only a relief; it's a good thing because she is the best candidate."

Flores' appointment is so new, she hasn't even had time to hang pictures on the walls of her office. Since Flores was hired four weeks ago, she has spent much of her time introducing herself to community leaders and making connections with corporations that could service as financial backers for the agency. Her next task is to assess the types of services Puerto Ricans want and need, she said.

"We have to break the cycle that has been holding us under," Flores said. "People need to begin to value what they have and take care of what they have."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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