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Latino leadership program launched

Katie Tabeling

Perdue leadership and employees, state leaders and members of the Hispanic community gathered to celebrate the $20,000 donation from the Perdue Foundation to launch HACE Delaware. | PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

MILFORD — La Plaza Delaware and the Delaware Hispanic Commission are bringing a national program geared for leadership development of Latino professionals, and a $20,000 donation from Perdue Farms on Wednesday will make it free for future participants.

The national nonprofit Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE) will launch a Delaware affiliate in early 2023, and it will offer a curriculum of hard and soft skills, including writing, public speaking, and project development. Participants will also be expected to complete a community project by the end of the program, which will run between 3 and 4 months.

With a donation from the Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation, HACE Delaware aims to start with a cohort of as many as 50 people, with its program free of charge for those admitted. The program will be held in Dover in a hybrid model, with alternating in-person and online attendance.

In presenting the check, Perdue Farms Vice President of Human Resources and Interim Chief Diversity Officer Gary Miller said that as one of the state’s largest private employers, the company has a commitment to investing in its associates and its communities.

“We know that creating opportunities for the personal and professional growth of our neighbors, which of course includes the Latino community, is mutually beneficial,” Miller told local and state leaders at the Milford Perdue office. “This is a first of its kind training program, and it will do so much for the individuals who enroll in it as they use the skills to acquire to further their careers and serve our communities. We are proud to be aligned in this partnership.”

Delaware’s Hispanic population is growing, and primarily that growth is fueled in Sussex County. Sussex County’s population of Hispanic residents was 22,357 in 2020, and it’s projected to rise 53% by 2050. Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long reported that the U.S. Census will show the state’s population is a quarter Latino, and the average age of the Latino community is 24 years old.

“When I go into boardrooms or communities, I don’t see that [number] at our tables,” the Lt. Governor said. “We need to have true representation not only in the workforce, but in all our leadership and opportunities in our communities.”

Early surveys conducted by La Plaza and its partners show that the Hispanic population did not consider themselves ready to be part of a political or economic leadership, as many people were too busy working on their own businesses. However, respondents often said the next generation would be the ones to have a voice.

“Leadership development is really going to be the path forward. Why wait four generations, like many of us did with our grandparents and parents, to have those opportunities at birth?” La Plaza Executive Director Mary Dupont said. 

La Plaza worked with the Delaware Hispanic Commission and the Lt. Governor’s office to weigh options to facilitate leadership training to lift the next generation of emerging leaders – and HACE, a nationwide organization in 36 states, fit the bill. 

HACE has been active for at least four decades, and is known for being culturally oriented for the Latino community. With a nationwide network, Delawareans will have the opportunity to consult with other HACE graduates, ranging from different professions.

“That’s one of the biggest things, to have someone come through this program and they’re in business or in healthcare. They will be able to use this network and have a conversation about their experiences, what they did and what they have learned,” said Edwin Hernández, the community relations director for Hall-Long and the co-chair of the Delaware Hispanic Commission leadership development committee.

Speaking from his own childhood experiences, Hernández recalled one of his classmates who didn’t speak English and didn’t understand the culture. So his classmate withdrew, until his parents sent him to an immersive leadership program.

“When he came back, he was speaking, engaging with us and volunteering. No one recognized this kid, and to be honest I didn’t recognize myself in him. I didn’t know I could be that kid,”  Hernández said. “This is an opportunity for countless Ediwns that haven’t realized their potential yet.”

HACE Delaware is also funded by donations from partners like the Delaware Hispanic Commission and the Arsht Cannon Fund, of which La Plaza Delaware received $100,000 this year. But Perdue’s involvement also symbolizes an investment from a major Delaware-based business with many plants in Sussex County.

Miller told the Delaware Business Times that Perdue has three leadership development initiatives it offers associates: a college education reimbursement benefit; Perdue Learning University, which offers leadership training conferences and access to self-training modules; and finally, assistance to create a training plan for employees interested in working up the company.

“I’m an example of that [last program] myself. When I joined Perdue many years ago, I was the HR manager at a plant in Accomac, Va. It was through those development opportunities that I am able to stand where I am today,” Miller said. “I’ve seen so many people advance through our company, and it’s a powerful experience.”

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