Luis Gutierrez’s journey begins back in the 1990s, when after much persistence from a friend, he volunteered to help members of his local immigrant community become more acquainted with the immigration process. In what he describes as being “one of the most beautiful things he’s ever seen” he entered a room to find people who looked like him counseling people who looked like his parents and since then he has never looked back.
Soon thereafter, he quit his job and joined the non-profit world for a few years until one day in 1998 he set off to launch his own project – Latinos Progresando – an organization known today as the largest Latino-led immigration service clinic within the state of Illinois.
Founded with only $200 from his own pocket, Latinos Progresando was established as a resource to help carry immigrant families from the legal process of citizenship all the way to getting them civically engaged. This work later led to many other realizations and needs in the community, particularly as it pertained to the children of immigrant families. As a response, Latinos Progresando became heavily involved in legislative action around the DREAM Act and established more resources focused on providing scholarship programs and promoting education retention for immigrant youth.
More importantly, Latinos Progresando understood that immigrant engagement really begins with citizenship, but ends at the ballot box. With this in mind, the organization works to keep them informed and active every step of the way as it relates to policy issues that affect their communities. They facilitate town halls and one-on-one meetings with elected officials and walk them through the process of voting in an election so that they understand the power of their voice and their vote.
While the organization started almost 20 years ago with the purpose of serving the Latino community in the greater Chicago area, today it receives over 400 people a month from neighboring states and other parts of the United States, representing over 40 countries from around the world. In the last five years alone, Latinos Progresando has received more than 25,000 people through its doors. Today, Latinos Progresando operates with a mere budget of $800,000, which is acquired solely through fundraising and grants, and counts with zero state or federal dollars to support its programs.
Although his current role positions him to be the face of the organization, Luis understands that the greatest impact takes place behind the scenes. As such, he continues to devote himself to developing the future leaders of the organization through proper mentorship and skills training opportunities.