“I get lots of positive responses whenever I mention the center but there is some confusion about its actual mission,” said Juan Benitez, who succeeds Pat Rozee as director. “A lot of people on this campus don’t really know what the center does or has the potential to do. I want to change that.”
The center serves as a partner and resource for faculty, students and community members in strengthening community capacity, building social and political capital, enriching the educational experience of students, and facilitating shared community-based research through coordinating civic engagement, effective service learning, and community collaborations.
“Under the direction of Dr. Rozee, the center has provided a strong foundation for CSULB to continue serving as a resource for students, faculty and community,” said Benitez, who joined Chicano and Latino Studies in 2001. “The CCE will continue creating opportunities to expand civic participation for students, community-based research for faculty and empowerment strategies for communities. As a result of the outstanding work of Dr. Rozee and the CCE staff, the center is strategically positioned to take on an even stronger role in serving the mission of the university in new and innovative ways.”
Benitez brings a strong record of community development work in the non-profit sector to his new position. In the year he joined CSULB, he founded a community development corporation. Initiating Change in Our Neighborhoods (ICON), that targets Latino and low-income communities in Los Angeles. “It offers every service from transportation studies to affordable housing research, from small business development to financial literacy,” he said. “It promotes a plethora of economic development strategies.”
Benitez pointed with pride to the center’s growing list of resources. The academic year 2006-07 saw the first year of partnership between the center and JusticeCorps, funded by an AmeriCorps grant to train college students to assist self-represented litigants in family law, housing law and small claims matters. Students help litigants with court paperwork, preparation, referrals or through individual aid at legal information workshops. At the same time, the Domestic Violence Court Resources Referral Program continues its commitment with seven CSULB students to provide immediate in-court assistance to victims of domestic violence in a project supported by the center and WomenShelter of Long Beach. Plus, the center was recently awarded a three-year $599,885 grant beginning in December to serve homeless individuals, families and veterans receiving shelter or services through community- or faith-based organizations in west Long Beach’s Villages at Cabrillo.
“I want to keep the relationships, partnerships and collaborations that have helped the center and university,” said Benitez. “I want constituents and stakeholders to know I will observe the status quo while helping the center to maintain and expand on its partnerships and collaborations. Both President Alexander and Provost Gould have expressed plenty of ideas about the center, which we all see as a spearhead for the university’s progress.”
Benitez wants the center to continue to have a community impact.
“Working in the center gives students a hands-on perspective on the communities in which they live,” he said. “The university has a role in collaborating with community-based organizations as well as public and private entities to change for the better. Also, community service learning emphasizes the potential impact of the scholar on the community. Service, teaching and scholarship are fundamental to the center’s mission.”
Benitez emphasizes his commitment to all the center’s existing projects and partnerships.
“I plan to build on the foundations laid by Dr. Rozee,” he said. “It is a strong foundation that allows the center to have flexibility and gives it the potential for growth. It provides wide scope for new directions. All I see is expansion.”