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
"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
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
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
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.
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