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Phi Iota Alpha: Building on a 15-year history with NHI

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Posted: December 15, 2020 at 3:17 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Phi Iota Alpha has a 15-year history of working with the National Hispanic Institute on several different initiatives, and two years ago, decided to take on a new philanthropic challenge: To raise money for the Hispanic Youth Fund. 

This year, the Latino fraternity has surpassed the $11,000 mark to help NHI in that effort — and they’re not stopping there.

Shared Values and Goals: Why Phi Iota Alpha and NHI Teamed Up

Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is the oldest Latino fraternity, with roots dating back to 1898 and officially established in 1931. Leadership, community service, and the ideal of a unified Latino people have been central to the organization’s mission and purpose. Years ago, after fraternity reps engaged in conversations with NHI reps who were also Phi Iota Alpha alumni, starting with NHI founder and president Ernesto Nieto, it was clear that they shared many values and goals.

Throughout the years, Phi Iota Alpha chapters have worked with NHI on various projects, providing support to Celebracion, serving as volunteer staff at some of the earliest NHI summer programs in the Northeast, and co-sponsoring space on university campuses. 

The latest fundraising efforts came out of a new energy among fraternity members to have a more direct impact through its philanthropic efforts. Its first fundraiser raised over $8,000 for students who participated in NHI’s 2019 summer programs. Phi Iota Alpha executives said that the undergraduate body was inspired by knowing the resources generated went towards a student’s development. 

Julio Irving Cotto, Senior Vice President at NHI and an alumnus of Phi Iota Alpha, was in on the initial conversations with Nieto and the fraternity leaders in 2003 and 2004.

“Ernesto had just come back from a conference where he spoke with Raul Yzaguirre, the president of NCLR (now UnidosUS). One of the major themes was the achievement levels of Latino boys in the school system. Both realized that very few if any organization had adopted the cause of young Latinos.” Cotto noted. “I remember Ernie saying, ‘We have to do something about the guys,’ but I can’t do it, I have NHI. But I want to help.” 

That’s when he called for a retreat between leaders of the two organizations at NHI Headquarters to arrive at a plan. 

“I had just graduated from college and was a young staffer at NHI,” Cotto recalled. “During college, I had always felt that NHI and the fraternity were similarly aligned. I joined Phi Iota Alpha in Boston in part after meeting people like Omar Cabrera at BU and Rico Guzman and Jose Estrada at Harvard who were members of both. At my first CLN in Monterrey, I spent a lot of time with an NHIer and brother from Baylor Dr. Juan Carlos Cantu. I also thought then that this was an innovative way or approach to ‘community service’ for Latino Greek organizations.” 

A Great Model for Other Change-Making Organizations to Make

Julio shared, “I think that this is a great model that other Greek-letter organizations, Latino nonprofits, corporate employee resource groups, and professional organizations can adopt. 100% of the resources are invested directly in the child’s leadership journey. In fact, we’re working with some chapters on being more intentional with fundraising by identifying and nominating a student’s from their chapter’s community. It reinforces some of Ernesto’s early messages that the community should invest because, in the end, they are building their own leadership pipeline. They get to be part of shaping the future by investing in a 14- or 15-year-old now knowing where they might head.” 

The fraternity has also invested directly in some members’ children, including Giovanni Abril, John Torres, and Ed Sazo, whose children attended NHI programs in the past few summers. 

“Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is proud to have partnered with the National Hispanic Institute to make a greater impact for scholarships to be awarded to Latino scholars,” said Ruben Garcia, Director of Civic Engagement for the organization. “These collaborations strive to build a world in which the catalytic power of collaboration is at the heart of the society we build together, unlocking dignity, opportunity, and equity around the Americas. Our organizations’ intentions to develop Latino youth leaders align together and helps to create a harmonious partnership that we look forward to developing. We realize that ‘La juventud de America’ is not only the future, but the present for influencing the societies of America, and the time is always now to pave the way for our Latino communities.”

Each chapter has been challenged to raise $250, and in just a few months, the organization has well surpassed last year’s total by getting past their original goal of $8,000. They’re looking to raise more before the end of the calendar year — with some board members pledging a “polar bear plunge” if they can get to the $12,500 threshold — and they’re hoping to expand their work with NHI in the spring and summer. 

To donate to Phi Iota Alpha’s fund for NHI scholarships, click here.

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