La Casita’s ‘meteoric rise’ means more hope, help, and hospitality

A dozen people sit around mismatched tables inside La Casita, enjoying steaming bowls of tortilla soup for lunch. Casual chatter and laughter fill the dining area, where families and individuals from all over Latin America regularly break bread alongside La Casita staff and volunteers. Two toddlers circle the room on riding toys, while community liaisons work at desks lining the walls. It’s business as usual at La Casita.

When explaining their work, La Casita staff uses the term “accompaniment” rather than “client,” and “accompanying” rather than “serving” to acknowledge how the organization strengthens, and is strengthened by, the individuals and families who come through their doors. The staff embody this terminology in their everyday work as they align themselves as equals to everyone who walks through their doors.

The nonprofit’s services are vast and varied, ranging from a food pantry, clothing closet, and diaper bank to a legal clinic, kindergarten readiness program, and health care advocacy for families with children with special care needs. “You name it, we do it… and if not, we make it up as we go,” says La Casita Executive Director, Karina Barillas. “La Casita, ‘The Little House,’ belongs to everyone. This space reflects Latin American hospitality.”

The word “hospitality” is invoked frequently at La Casita, a place that exudes warmth — from its orange walls and mix of vintage furniture to its homemade meals served free of charge to anyone who enters the century-old gymnasium in Old Louisville. The nonprofit even employs a full-time hospitality coordinator, Juanita Pérez, who embodies La Casita’s mission to enhance the well-being of Louisville’s Latinx community through education, empowerment, advocacy, and wellness. Before Juanita was a La Casita employee, she received accompaniment and services.

In 2002, Juanita found shelter and support at a place called Casa Latina, a “hospitality house” for immigrant women overcoming violence, poverty or other obstacles. Casa Latina was conceived by a few local nonprofit professionals, including Karina, who previously worked at the Center for Women and Families. “Pretty soon, more and more people started knocking on Casa Latina’s door in search of various types of support, and La Casita grew organically from there,” says Karina.

La Casita was incorporated in 2006, and for years its two full-time (paid part-time) employees worked tirelessly with limited resources. It was a struggle to meet the demand, but that all began to change when Karina was selected as a Community Foundation of Louisville Alden Fellow in 2014.

Funded by a single donor at the Community Foundation, the Alden Fellowship has enabled 28 nonprofit leaders to pursue professional development to enhance their work. “This wonderful opportunity made me realize all the different things that needed to happen for La Casita to grow,” says Karina, who secured an Executive Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership at Duke University.

Since then, La Casita has experienced “a meteoric rise,” according to Liz Alkire, Director of Grants and Evaluation for the Community Foundation. In 2018, the organization documented 36,000 services, compared to 1,500 in 2014. La Casita’s staff has grown to 12 employees, five of whom are full time.

La Casita has maintained this momentum by taking advantage of additional Community Foundation support: In 2018, the nonprofit raised over $14,000 in 24 hours during the Foundation’s giving day, Give For Good Louisville, and they received a $15,000 Community Foundation Fund for Louisville capacity building grant to fund a new donor and client database.

“We recognize that nonprofit organizations give so much and often put their own needs last,” says Liz. “We learned that La Casita was managing all of their data in a spreadsheet and it was clear how a new database would help staff have more time to work with the individuals and families they accompany.”  The new database has allowed La Casita to track the services they provide and to publish their first-ever annual report this past year.

All of this support has been invaluable to La Casita and those they accompany on a journey to thrive, Karina says, adding: “Over the past five years, the Community Foundation has provided so much support and love and coaching. It’s truly been instrumental in getting us to where we are today.” Funding and contributions to the “wish list” of items posted on its website will allow La Casita to continue growing to meet the needs of our community.

 

To learn more about how you can start, or contribute to your existing fund, to help organizations like La Casita, or leaders like Karina, contact Jennifer Fust-Rutherford, Director of Gift Planning.

To learn more about the Community Foundation of Louisville programs and grant opportunities visit us online or call 502.585.4649.