Strengthening UnidosNow: Interviewing Kathy Schersten, Board Member and Mentor

By Sandy Chase

Kathy Schersten, UnidosNow Board Member.

UnidosNow looks forward to celebrating its next 10 years–indebted to those who have supported this nonprofit from its inception.

Continuing to foster the success of this organization, serving Sarasota and Manatee counties, Kathy Schersten sheds light on the commitment of so many, especially the initial board of Kelly Kirschner, CJ Czaia, and Luis Eduardo Baron.

For her and others, involvement was—and is—crucial. As a board member and former teacher, Kathy is determined to strengthen the lives of local Latinos, especially through education. In her role as board member and mentor, she advocates for the “American Dream.”

Kathy shares the ways in which UnidosNow exemplifies how perseverance, vision, and commitment have created a viable organization—continuing to empower Latinos and their families and bettering the community.

UnidosNow is creating the FUTURE for so many NOW!

What prompted you to get involved with UnidosNow?

I had to get involved when I heard of its plans, its mission, and its focus on the needs of local Hispanics. When I moved to Sarasota in the late 1970s, the Hispanic community was relatively small: St. Martha’s Church had a Spanish language mass each Sunday, with an average 25 participants.

By 2010, there were large numbers of Hispanics in church, in schools, and as homeowners.

As the founders began to publicize their educational objectives, my husband and I reached out to support their goals, first as donors, eager to spread the word of the opportunities UnidosNow was offering.

The original board, comprising Kelly, CJ, and Luis, formed the direction and the initial activities, creating a resource for Latinos to make a serious presence in Sarasota. It was past due, and we were all waiting—wanting a push in the right direction for these residents, taxpayers, and families.

UnidosNow provided it.

What role did you play in the beginning?

In the early days of UnidosNow, I was unable to take a large role with this incredible, much-needed organization because of family health issues. I kept in touch and directed other supporters and families from St. Jude Catholic Church to explore and use the UnidosNow programs.

It was easy to promote because Hispanics were eager to find ways to reach that famous “American Dream.” We spread the word quickly to the media, especially through Luis Eduardo Baron’s two publications (7Días, La Guía), church bulletins, and via the network of other nonprofits, such as the Women’s Resource Center, Girls Inc. of Sarasota County.

How has your background contributed to the success of UnidosNow?

I cannot say my background had anything to do with the success of UnidosNow, but it was my academic experiences and passion for teaching that drew me to the organization. My undergraduate study included a year and half at the University of Mexico in Mexico City. Then I taught school in Colombia for a year; eight years in Caracas, Venezuela; and a year in Madrid.

My students were not low income: their parents were educated; their futures were bright. This was not the same scene in the barrios of the countries where I lived. As an educator, I gravitated to the academic plans of UnidosNow, reaching out to first-generation students to give them a chance at higher education.

As a board member and past president of the local Hispanic-American Association, I continue to connect with many in the Latino community—on all levels—encouraging civic involvement and exploring immigration issues.

The founders of UnidosNow took steps to provide the tools for advancement to this vibrant community. Most importantly, these visionaries showed they care.

What are the rewards?

I share the excitement of students and their parents as they navigate the process to college acceptance—receiving scholarships and additional financial assistance. I’m impressed by mentees who rave how grateful they are for UnidosNow and its mentors.

As an UnidosNow board member, there is great pride in being part of this outstanding organization. We have proudly earned the support of donors, foundations, schools, elected officials, and the community at large.

As a board member, what are some of your goals for UnidosNow?

They include preserving its status in the community as the model agency for Latino growth. Other goals include continuing to serve the young people in our various programs–understanding these students’ backgrounds and needs. I feel confident that neither the board nor the staff will alter its long-term mission of educating, elevating, and integrating.

The leadership of UnidosNow has a proven record of meeting the needs of those who rely on the organization for guidance and support—a practice that must continue.