Orange County Grant Makers Recognize Chispa’s Executive Director Wth Their Emerging Leader Award

Chispa's Executive Director, Hairo Cortes, shares his thoughts on this recognition.
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I’m Sharing this before too much time passes, but last week I was awarded the Emerging Leader Award by the Orange County Grantmakers in large part due to my work in building Chispa/Chispa Education Fund.

Generally, I am loath to receive attention. Still, this one feels very meaningful because its a recognition of the work I, our staff, our members, and the many people I count on as mentors and schemers who put up with my cold calls anytime I need advice with something have done over the last 5 years to build something truly unique in Orange County.

So while I stood up on that stage to receive the award, it belongs to B Loewe who influenced Chispa’s centering of strategic communications as a core power-building strategy. It belongs to Mijente who showed me the power that comes with building multi-entity organizations composed of 501c3 and 501c4’s. It belongs to Sandy Chiang who gave us our first grant even when we couldn’t fully articulate our vision of what Chispa would become. It belongs to Ken Chapman who changed my view of fund-raising when he said we have to organize our funders.

It belongs to Bulmaro who helped position Chispa as a leading organization in the police accountability space in Orange County when it was just the two of us on staff. It belongs to Penelope and Hector who allowed us to become the membership-based organization we always knew we HAD to be.

It belongs to Isuri who is undeterred in moving Chispa toward becoming a leader in the nonprofit space and helping ask and answer the questions young organizers and nonprofit staff have needed their leaders to answer for decades:

  • As nonprofits, what is our responsibility as employers?

  • As nonprofits what should we do to ensure we live up to the values of economic justice we advocate for?

To that end, I’m excited to be able to say that although we may not have all the answers, we have a general direction we’re moving in:

  • We’re stressing the need to increase salaries with our funders and putting it in terms they can understand by reminding them that our staff is achieving hella policy wins while living in one of the most expensive counties in the world. Our goal is to ensure that anyone who works for us can afford a one-bedroom apartment on their own without sacrificing food, health, or recreation.

  • We’re exploring the creation of a Student Loan Assistance program with our fiscal sponsor.

  • We’re exploring the creation of a Financial Wellness assistance program to match our staff’s individual investment contributions up to a certain percentage, whether it’d be to a retirement account, college fund, or other investment accounts. This would be on top of the 401k contributions we already match.

I look forward to answering these questions, implementing these types of staff wellness programs in the months ahead, and coming back here and saying we did it.

I also look forward to continuing to build Chispa and win more for young people and working-class families in Orange County.

Hairo Cortes

Hairo Cortes

is a founding member and Executive Director of Chispa. His organizing background in immigrant rights has seen him lead local, statewide, and national campaigns against deportations and immigrant detention. You can usually find him singing along to Johnny Cash and playing with his cats, Om'Nom and Chispita.

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Chispa is a brave organizing political home for young Latinx identifying peoples. Chispa seeks to engage with excluded peoples to uproot systems of oppression and cultivate systems grounded in community accountability, solidarity, and self-determination for our communities to thrive.

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