The Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations, also known as Concilio, was founded in 1962 making it the oldest Latino organization in Philadelphia. Concilio is proud to have a well-established reputation for providing culturally relevant family support and child welfare services. Concilio’s mission is to cultivate the strength and resilience of children and families, improve the quality of life in our community, and maintain our community’s heritage, history and culture. Concilio was founded to recognize and voice the needs of Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican and Latino communities. Our core value to improve the quality of life in our community has meant working with local government, community agencies, educational institutions and the private sector. Most importantly our mission is influenced by the community’s voice. Concilio expanded to be a social service provider in the federal War on Poverty (1967-1972) offering employment training programs, loans and housing education, and the founding of the Spanish Merchants Association of Philadelphia. Since the 1970’s Concilio has maintained similar core programs. Concilio has expanded to better fulfill its mission through trauma-informed services for youth and families in the greater Philadelphia area. Currently we serve over 12,000 community members annually. Concilio is unique. Not only do we operate service programs, we organize and lead two of the largest annual events in Philadelphia, the Puerto Rican Day Parade and Hispanic Fiesta. These events highlight the communities’ bond as we celebrate and recognize the resiliency and heritage of the Latino and Philadelphia community.
The Leadership of Concilio
Based on prior documentation (Festival Yearbooks), the following listing of leadership in Concilio was developed. It is important to note that for certain periods an Executive Director was not appointed, and the Board President was acting as administrator as well.
Moises Gonzalez, 1962-64
Otilio Maldonado, 1965-66
Manuel Zurita, 1967
Carlos Morales, 1968-70
Ramon Velazquez, 1971-72
Jesus Sierra, 1973-74
Carmen Bolden, 1970-77
Roberto Ivan Figueroa, 1977-78
Benjamin Cuebas, 1979
Candelario Lamboy , 1980-85
Mirabel Lamboy Patruno, 1985-87
Jack Ortiz, 1990-?
Richard Bradley, 1994
Lisa Torres, 1995-96
Roberto Santiago, 1997-2009
Joanna Otero-Cruz, 2010-2016
Adonis Banegas, 2016-Present
The Changing Roles of El Concilio: One of the Council’s past presidents, Candelario Lamboy, has described the organization’s role with respect to other Puerto Rican and Latino associations in the city as follows: “The Concilio has been a basic building block in the foundation of the Hispanic Community in every way and form, from policy-making and advocacy with local government, community agencies, educational institutions and with the private sector” (Concilio: 25th Anniversary 1988, pp. 34). Within this broad general framework, the emphasis of El Concilio’s programs has shifted several times as the following account shows.
Concilio Announces New Executive Director North Philadelphia native Adonis Banegas will lead Philadelphia’s oldest Latino non-profit. The Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia (Concilio) is pleased to announce Adonis Banegas as
Founding Years 1962-67:
In the early 1960s, the city’s Puerto Rican community was relatively small. There were, however, a number of social and fraternal organizations for the Spanish-speaking. On 1 October 1962, these groups joined together to form a membership federation which they named the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations. The Council was the first organization of its type in Philadelphia to unite the city’s Puerto Rican and Latino social and civic groups into a coalition for representing Spanish-speaking constituencies to the city at large. Originally the Council was made up of a half-dozen affiliate organizations. By 1968 the Council had 13 affiliates, and by 1976 it represented 21 member organizations with a total of 105 active delegates.
The Council defined its mission in four broad areas: police/community relations, employment, and housing and social services. Initially these programs were limited in scope because the organization relied solely on voluntary efforts and had no paid staff. The first headquarters of the organization was located at 2023 N. Front Street, Kensington. The group started a newspaper, La Voz del Concilio, supported by funds from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (the first issue appeared in September 1966). Among other accomplishments of these years, El Concilio assisted the School District of Philadelphia in establishing a bilingual program; developed bilingual informational handouts for governmental offices such as the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (the agency responsible for grievances relating to substandard housing); and recruited Spanish-speaking applicants for the police and fire departments.
Multi-Purpose Social Agency 1967-72: Next came a period of activism and outreach in which El Concilio incorporated (1967) and became a social service provider in the federal war on poverty (1967-72). In response to the unmet need for social services it was frequently observed that Latinos would not seek assistance from existing public agencies. El Concilio established its own multi-purpose social program, Project Welcome, in 1968. Aimed primarily toward the needs of early new arrivals from Puerto Rico, the broad goals of the project were to organize the community, set up training programs, give classes in consumer education, and develop leadership. Project Welcome involved several full-time staff including a job developer and social worker who offered placement and training programs including a job bank list; social services counseling and referral; escrow services for tenants whose houses had been declared unfit for habitation by the Department of Licenses and Inspections; and services to assist qualified applicants secure public housing, participate in federal housing programs, and increase home ownership options for target-area residents.
The results of Project Welcome highlighted the need for social services among the city’s Spanish-speaking residents. The total clientele handled by El Concilio’s Employment Department alone, from October 1968 through December 1971, was nearly 21,000. Of this total, approximately 54 percent were referred to job slots (“Annual Report,” April 1972, p. 5, 17).
Project Welcome 1972-1977 was Concilio’s first federally funded undertaking. The project was funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity through grants awarded by the Philadelphia Anti-Poverty Action Commission (PAAC), the agency established by order of the mayor in February 1965 to guide the city’s anti-poverty campaign under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.
Project Welcome mirrored goals of federal antipoverty initiatives of the 1960s. First, Concilio claimed its approach rationalized the distribution of social services to a minority population. As its officers explained, through Project Welcome, “The Council since 1968 has endeavored to provide the most efficient delivery of social services as possible” among the Spanish-speaking (“Progress Report,” April 1973, p. 13). Efforts were made to build on other available resources. When Project Welcome got underway, Concilio provided office space to employees of the Puerto Rican Department of Labor’s Migration Division to help clients find work. Moreover, the organization sought private funds to augment the public grant. The United Fund, for instance, supported the expansion of the employment program from 1971-75. Secondly, Project Welcome gave minority representatives a voice in shaping the provision of social services to their group. At the time of PAAC’s inception, there was no Spanish-speaking representation on the commission; by 1970, Concilio president Carlos J. Morales served as a mayoralappointed representative to PAAC. A third notable feature of Project Welcome was that it probably encouraged interaction between Philadelphia’s Puerto Ricans and Latinos of different national origins, though the extent of this is hard to gauge. As a federally-funded program, Project Welcome was available to all who needed its bilingual services. In 1972 the Project Welcome Advisory Board included at least one Cuban-born officer (Pedro E. Pupo), but Puerto Ricans remained the predominant client group.
As El Concilio became increasingly active in social services, some of its activities shifted to other organizations. In 1969 Concilio founded the Spanish Merchants Association of Philadelphia to provide information and technical assistance to Spanish-speaking businessmen. Concilio also assisted in establishing a Philadelphia chapter of Aspira (1969), the fifth local chapter of the organization begun in New York in 1961 to encourage Puerto Rican youth to complete their educations. The Council remained active in sponsoring educational opportunities, including English classes for adults. (See Puerto Rican Week Festival 1972 program booklet, for a sketch of Concilio’s work in the field of education).
During the early 1970s, Concilio received two grants from the Philadelphia Model Cities Program of the Model Cities Administration, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a federal urban renewal program. The first award enabled Concilio to commission a Community Residential Survey to collect comprehensive demographic data on areas containing a significant Spanishspeaking population. The survey was intended for use in preparing a comprehensive, long-range plan to guide the physical and social development of the Spanish-speaking community. Model Cities also supported Concilio’s move to a larger facility, awarding the Council a $200,000 grant to acquire and renovate the Pannonia Beneficial Association facility at 705709 N. Franklin Street.
Employment Training: Another program which developed in the 1970s was that of employment placement and training. Concilio had had an Employment Division from early on to perform job development, followup, and intake services. Concilio’s first formal efforts to provide employment training under government sponsorship began with a contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Bureau of Employment Security, subcontractor for the WIN (Work Incentive Program) of the U.S. Department of Labor, to employ persons in public service jobs in 1974.
Specialization in Social Services 1970-77:
Under the executive directorship of Carmen Bolden (1970-1977), a number of the programs which began under Project Welcome developed into separate specialized activities, each with its own sources of funding and professional staff. Mrs. Bolden had come to work as an administrative assistant for Concilio in 1968 and succeeded Jose M. Camacho in the executive director post. Programs developed under her leadership included:
Centro PAIAN Program1975-1980: In 1975 Concilio presented a proposal to the City of Philadelphia Coordinating Office for Drug Abuse and Alcohol Programs (CODAAP) to operate a bilingual outpatient treatment center in North Central Philadelphia. Gaudenzia, Inc., consulted on the plans for the center, which opened in 1976. Centro PAIAN provided group therapy, individual counseling, medical and psychiatric services, family counseling, G.E.D. courses, bible studies, recreational activities, referrals and followup services.
Consumer Education Program1973-1977:
The purpose of this program was to inform the Spanish-speaking community about consumer topics such as housing, buying on credit, and how to recognize and avoid unfair trade practices. It was supported by a sub-grant made from funds allocated by the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration to the Pennsylvania Governor’s Justice Commission of the state Department of Justice in accord with the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The program began in December 1973. A Neighborhood Advisory Board made up of representatives from five predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods and representatives from several consumer-related fields (Health Services, Consumer Protection, Education, and Local Business) served as an outreach arm for the program and helped channel resources into the organization to support program activities. Under the guidance of its first director, Venezuelan-born Alvaro Gutierrez, the program sponsored workshops and developed a bilingual leaflet series with eyecatching graphics. A Spanish Consumer Fair, held for the first time in 1974, attracted 500 persons.
Ombudsman (Consumer Protection) Program1970-1977: This program grew out efforts begun by the Fellowship Commission, a city-wide, nonprofit organization, to develop a consumer protection service in low-income areas. The Commission established a branch office at the El Concilio headquarters around 1970 and for a time the two organizations conducted the service cooperatively. Then, in 1973, El Concilio sought funding to establish and operate its own Ombudsman Program. The purpose of the program was to protect Spanish-speaking Philadelphians from being victimized by fraudulent business practices which deterred their progress into the economic mainstream. As one brochure explained, “The unplanned-for debts, which they often incur due to the shady practices of some stores, make sound family budgeting impossible. Poor credit ratings, deep and seemingly endless debt, and bankruptcy are the results of such practices for many individuals.” (“Summary of Special Projects, 1975-76,” p. 4).
The initial grant for the Concilio Ombudsman Program was awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs through the Philadelphia Anti Poverty Action Commission. The focal point for the program was a complaint center which handled complaints from consumers or citizens against any level of government or business. The initial grant award was $43,000 for a twelve-month period. The program grew rapidly so that by the end of the first year, staff officers were processing 500 complaints a month. The case load grew after July 1974 when many of the other neighborhood-based consumer protection programs such as those conducted by Model Cities closed because of funding cuts: the Council’s service remained open because it had a different funding source. When the Department of Community Affairs reduced its support for the program in 1975, Mrs. Bolden merged the consumer protection service into the Consumer Education office and sought funds from private sources such as the William Penn Foundation to make up the budget shortfall for the complaint center which was heavily used. From 1974-76, the Consumer Protection program case load quadrupled and the ethnic composition changed from almost entirely Latino and Puerto Rican to approximately onethird Spanish-speaking; the remaining clients were evenly divided between African Americans and whites. During 1975-76, the Ombudsman program handled 4,075 complaints. Major areas of complaints were landlord-tenant relations, housing, automobile repairs, and fraud and deceptive sales practices involving furniture, appliances, mail order merchandise, home improvements, and insurance. (“Summary of Special Projects, 1975-76,” p. 7, gives percentages of various types of cases handled.). In 1974-76, Executive Director Carmen Bolden looked for alternate sources of funding in later project years from the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Philadelphia Urban Coalition, Philadelphia Foundation, and SmithKline Corporation.
Veterans Outreach Program 1972-1974:
This program was designed to enrich and supplement government and private veteran programming by preparing the veteran population in the Puerto Rican and Latino communities for employment opportunities, to render personal and technical assistance, and to provide follow up services for veterans. Services included counseling and career planning, job recruitment and placement, referral services, educational and training assistance, business development assistance, and social and health services referral.
The program went into operation in November 1972. During its first year, the staff identified and contacted over 700 Spanish-speaking veterans and registered and counseled 464 of these individuals. Funding was provided by the National Puerto Rican Forum under contract with the U.S. Department of Labor. The program ended after the passage of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA) shifted responsibility for such programs to local manpower plans.
Senior Citizens Nutrition Program1973-1977:
Beginning in March 1974, the Council, under contract with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), provided a daily hot meal to the elderly. The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging was designated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be the Area Agency on Aging, and, as such, it was the chief contractor in the city of Philadelphia to conduct the federal nutrition program for the elderly which was set up under Title VII of the Older Americans Act of 1965 and later amendments. El Concilio operated the meal program from a center at York and Hancock streets (possibly The First Spanish Baptist Church). Other services were added including recreational and cultural activities, casework, and escort and transportation services on minibusses purchased for the seniors’ program. Although the clientele was predominantly Spanish speaking, it included African-Americans and white area residents.
Enabled El Concilio to provide outreach assistance to Spanish-speaking ex-offenders in the Philadelphia area as subject to provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and later amendments. The program began in 1976 under a sub-grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Justice, Governor’s Justice Commission, through funding from the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). With the cooperation with the Philadelphia office of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, and with the cooperation of the city’s Office of the Superintendent of Prisons (a division of the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Welfare), the Center provided educational, vocational, and counseling services to Spanish-speaking residents of correctional facilities at Holmesburg, the House of Correction, the Detention Center, and the State Correctional Institution at Graterford. Among its activities, the Center distributed Spanish versions of voter registration materials, manuals of prisoners’ rights, and information about services for ex-offenders in cooperation with the Prisoners’ Rights Council of Philadelphia which produced these handouts. Statistics showed a need for the service: in its first months in operation (OctoberDecember 1976) the Redirection Center aided 47 clients. Stanford R. Lamb, previously associated with the Council’s consumer program, headed the Redirection Center from 1976-78.
The years from 1977-84 were troubled ones for El Concilio. First came financial difficulties which led to the termination of Carmen Bolden in mid-1977. Subsequently the Council came under increased public scrutiny when irregular accounting procedures came to light. Allegations concerning unpaid back taxes blocked the organization’s attempts to seek further public funds which were increasingly hard to come by in the new political climate which developed both locally, following Mayor Frank Rizzo’s succession by Mayor William Green (1979) and, at the federal level, following the election of President Ronald Reagan (1980).
Meanwhile El Concilio experienced its own internal difficulties. After her removal from the directorship, Carmen Bolden organized a petition drive (1978) to protest Concilio’s new regime. Bolden claimed that the new leadership had diverted the organization from serving the poor and disadvantaged (Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, November 26, 1978). For whatever reasons, by 1981, El Concilio was regarded in some quarters as a defunct organization. “Philadelphia’s Hispanic community has been splintered since the collapse of the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations in 1978,” the Delaware Valley Agenda reported on 10 June 1981, noting that attorney Luis Diaz had established another organization, the Hispanic Federation for Social and Economic Development, to incorporate existing Puerto Rican and Latino community organizations and social service agencies.
But El Concilio retained a continuing corporate identity throughout this period of crisis. Bolden was succeeded as executive director by Roberto Ivan Figueroa (1977-78) who was followed by acting director Asuncion Munoz and executive director Benjamin Cuebas. In 1979 the Council was still operating a number of programs including the senior citizens center, Centro PAIAN, and a Manpower Employment and Training Program staffed with several additional employees including new job developer Benjamin Ramos. Finally, in 1984, auditors ruled in favor of Concilio in its dispute with the IRS. State officials in Harrisburg thereupon extended the organization’s permit to generate funds as a non-profit organization. Maribel Lamboy Patruno became program director, and in 1987 she became executive director of the Council.
El Concilio addressed other challenges in the 1980s. Like many Philadelphians, Puerto Ricans increasingly found themselves faced with economic barriers: lack of jobs, neighborhood decay caused by loss of industry in the inner city, and the impact of public policy changes on social programs. To cope with these problems, Concilio resumed its Employment Training/CETA Program 1975-1983 under contract through the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Employment and Training which administered funds authorized by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA) and by the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) which replaced CETA, JTPA Program 1983-1985. Signed into law in October 1982, the JTPA replaced CETA with a new program and delivery system to train economically disadvantaged persons for permanent, private-sector employment. Council’s “Hispanic Job Search Assistance” program conducted under contract with the city from October 1983-June 1984 (Contract (#A174103OHCD). Under this contract, Concilio attempted to place eligible applicants in a skilled/semiskilled or unskilled job developed by the Concilio project staff. Participants also received counseling assessment and job interviewing training through the program which was headed by Ovidio (Jack) Ortiz.
Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program 1984-1985 El Concilio’s participation in a city sponsored employment program for disadvantaged youth.
PhilaJob Program Records, 1985-1989: These materials document the Council’s involvement in the PhilaJob summer youth employment program operated by the Private Industry Council of Philadelphia under the Job Training Partnership Act.
Meanwhile, as Puerto Ricans continued to arrive in Philadelphia, El Concilio sought through various means to help them preserve their native language and cultural heritage. The most outstanding example of the Council’s cultural stewardship was its sponsorship of the Puerto Rican Week Festival. First celebrated in 1964, the festival developed into an exuberant week-long gala which underscores the Puerto Rican presence in Philadelphia while keeping memories of the island alive.
El Concilio Today:
The Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations is continuing to explore approaches to poverty and unemployment in the 1990s. As current Concilio president Ramonita Rivera explained, “Since government and city funding sources have become tighter in recent years, Concilio has been depending more and more on volunteer services to maintain its level of operations” and has sought alternative sources of support. (Puerto Rican Week Festival Program, 1992, p. 11). In 1992, part of the funding for El Concilio’s employment service was provided by the Philadelphia Urban Coalition; the Employment and Training Program was funded by the Philadelphia Private Industry Council, as was the summer youth employment program, PhilaJob, in which El Concilio participates. The ESL (English as a Second Language) and GED (General Education) courses which the Council sponsors are funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The Council also houses the Institute for Science and Business Education which provides the training needed in automated business offices.
President Rivera stressed the importance of the social services offered by the organization. The newest of these is a day care program. The organization has also started a new drug and alcohol program called “La Clinica.” Other programs include employment counseling, referral services, SCOH (Service to Children in their Own Home) through contract with city’s Department of Human Services and foster care.
Perhaps most importantly, El Concilio continues to address the hardship of Puerto Ricans which still persists. Through sponsorship of private donors including WCAU-TV 10 and others, El Concilio conducts an Emergency Service Fund to assist needy persons and families with food and other necessities.
Puerto Rican Week Festival
The city’s annual Puerto Rican Week Festival (Festival Puertorriqueno Filadelfia), sponsored by the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations, was held for the first time in 1964. The festival has since grown to include a full week of activities and has been described by one of its officers as “the single most important event for Hispanics living in the Philadelphia region.” The principle activities are the celebration of Puerto Rican Day (the last Sunday of September), a grand parade (Desfile Puertorriqueno), a banquet, and the Miss Puerto Rico-Philadelphia pageant. The festival also includes a Mini-Olympics; cultural offerings such as Latin musical and dance performances; public service awards; and speeches focusing on the goals and needs of Philadelphia’s Latinos.
The festival is planned and organized by a committee within the Council of Spanish Organizations which works together with a president for the event who is chosen annually from the Puerto Rican community leadership. Names of past Puerto Rican Week Festival presidents have included Moises Gonzalez (1964), Ramonita Rivera (1978), George Perez (1980), Candelario Lamboy (1983), Mercedez Sanchez (1984), Honorable Nelson A. Diaz (1988), and Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Benjamin Ramos (1993). Among its other duties, the committee handles financial aspects of the festival such as fundraising through sales of advertising and solicitation of corporate contributions. Traditionally, the officers have also devoted considerable effort to involving elected officials either as speakers or supporters: festivities have generally included proclamations by the mayor, the governor, and the president of the United States. Through the week-long celebration and related publicity, the festival generates jobs and business opportunities for Puerto Ricans and other Spanish-speaking residents of the Delaware Valley.
The history of the festival includes a number of memorable moments and “firsts.” In 1971, the first woman, Mrs. Minerva Dean, was selected as president of the committee. Mayor Frank Rizzo, in official recognition of the parade, walked the entire parade route in 1972 (the 1988 festival program includes a photograph of this event). In 1973 and 1974, the festival presented awards to the first citizen of the year and the first sportsman of the year. In 1976, Mayor Rizzo officially recognized Puerto Rican Week in the City of Philadelphia and Governor Milton Shapp officially recognized it in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. By 1978, the festival had grown so large that it was made a subsidiary corporation to El Concilio. The festival continued to expand each year, attracting its largest turnout in 1987. By that time the festival was being managed by an executive committee, which consisted of a president, four vicepresidents, a secretary, treasurer, and thirteen subcommittees.
Some of the activities which have become a part of Puerto Rican Week (with the year they started in parenthesis) are: festival program booklet (1964); selection of Miss Puerto Rico-Philadelphia as the young lady who sold the most tickets to the festival (1964); parade (1964); banquet (1964); festival date changed to last Sunday in September (1968); festival expanded from one day to a full week (1970); Citizen of the Year (1973); Sportsman of the Year (1974); Teacher of the Year (1975); queen of the parade awarded a car (1976), Miss Puerto Rico-Philadelphia, the queen of the parade, was to be chosen by a pageant on the basis of appearance, talent, personality, and intelligence instead of number of tickets sold (1978).
Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Latino Philadelphia: Our Journeys, Our Communities/Nuestros Caminos, Nuestros Comunidades. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 2003. http://www2.hsp.org/collections/balch%20manuscript_guide/html/councilspanish.html