Interview with TWP Board President, Cesar Urrunaga

    Cesar speaking at our 2016 YUM event

This past month, the board of The Welcome Project was busy selecting new members. To shed some light on the process as well as the general functions of the board, we talked to TWP board president, Cesar Urrunaga.

As an adolescent, Cesar migrated with his family from Peru to the US in search of better opportunities. Cesar emphasized that there was nothing like The Welcome Project for his parents to help orient them to the US system. This partially fuels Cesar’s commitment to TWP and the Somerville immigrant community. The following is a short interview with Cesar:

Why did you join The Welcome Project?

“I became part of The Welcome Project because the work that it does to help people in Somerville. It’s the help that my family and I didn't have when we came to the US; organizations that help families and new immigrants deal with this system. That’s one of the hardest things, you don’t know how the system works. The Welcome Project is not just English classes, we teach civics, how to deal within schools and we provide English for parents of students in the schools. Now that The Welcome Project is involved with the schools, it’s a huge opportunity to grow.”

How did you become president?

“Most of the TWP board were people I knew from political things in Somerville. I joined the board in 2013 and later became the president of the board after Ben became executive director.

So what exactly does our board do?

“The board is not a hands on day-to-day operation. The board acts as a sounding board for any ideas that Ben may have or that he may need some help with. What the board mainly takes care of is making sure we are fundraising. It’s the most important part. We have a fundraising committee that does the work in meeting the goals we have to make sure the budget stays where it needs to be. At every board meeting, we look at the budget. If there are adjustments that need to be made, it’s the responsibility of the board to watch where the money goes.”

How often does board membership change?

“We have a board development committee which makes sure the board keeps renewing its membership. A few years ago, it was decided that people on the board should have term limits because at a certain point, everyone on the board was a 10 or more year veteran of The Welcome Project. When this happens, the board gets stale, it’s not good for new ideas, and people need to step off just to get their own lives back. Now there is a term limit of 6 years after which you have to be off the board for one year, and then you can come back. This process staggers term for the members and brings new ideas every time. The fact that other people have to step off also means not falling into a rut of not having to recruit people to the board. It's sad on one side to see people who have been so involved in the welcome project leave the board, but it’s good for them to have their time off.”

How do you recruit for the board?

“We have a fundraising committee, and sometimes someone on it is interested in joining the board. Other times, someone who was a volunteer teacher or even someone who went through The Welcome Project are recruited. We even put the word out on craigslist and that’s how we got Andre Green on the board before he was elected to the school committee. To expand in the future, we are looking at the first class of high school kids who went through the LIPS program, and asking where would they be now? It’s a good time to see if they want to join the board. It also means some administrative work. Thats a huge part of it. How do we keep track of everybody? Do we have an idea of who has been in our classes and moved on? And how do we keep track of those people?”

How are people chosen?

“The board development committee meets and we talk about who we can get on the board and what we need on the board. Everybody that comes onto the board has different abilities so we are often looking at certain expertise, people who have worked with The Welcome Project, or certain backgrounds that can better the board. We have one person who is Haitian on the board, but we would love to have more Haitian board members. We often ask, what does the board actually look like and what should it look? Should the board look like the people that TWP services? What is the percentage of women to men? What is the best way to make a board with what we need it to do? There is no right answer. Everyone has something that we need.”

What has happened with the board election so far?

“This year there are three people coming off the board, and then three more coming onto the board. There are currently nine total board members, and the board can have up to twelve. We are always looking, always willing to hear anyone interested.”

Board elections aside, what are your thoughts on the recent presidential election?

“It’s very tough right now because we don't really know. Personally, I’m not in a state of panic because even though there are a lot of potential issues that might come up, we live in a bubble of liberalism. We have a mayor that will protect the immigrant community, we have governor that has said the same, and all elected officials have said the same thing. It’s wonderful to have that backing, without it, I would feel much much worse.”

How does this affect The Welcome Project?

“There are a lot of money implications to deal with if we get money taken away as a sanctuary city. There is a lot of money we use that we get from the federal government. We need to make up that money somewhere to continue. Whether that will actually happen, we don't know. There are just too many people that depend on what we do just to step back and let things happen. Massachusetts is such a great state, I like what I'm hearing from the state government, everybody’s coming out and saying "we are not going to stand for it.

People have asked me, “how do I help?” There’s donations and volunteering. As people see more and more of what happens around the country, they will be more inclined to be active and participate in the community.The teachers put in so many hours with their engagement with the community, and the fact that we can engage people at the level of volunteering is wonderful. And we need to do more community outreach to do this. If The Welcome Project is going to grow, we need those volunteers.”