Photos by Hedi Rudd

Welcome to our new home. Your home. Mi casa es su casa. Students, partners, community members. This is your home.” Those words of welcome from co-founder and executive director of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, Inc (LAWD), Baltazar De Anda Santana were heartfelt and as much a call to action as a greeting. 

Students and staff of LAWD have a new home located at 2909 Landmark Place in Southwest Madison off the Beltline Highway. They share their home with MetaStar, a local healthcare quality improvement organization. MetaStar CEO, Jesi Wang, spoke to attendees about her excitement to share space with the Academy and how in the past few days they welcomed U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway and incoming Fitchburg Mayor Julia Arata-Fratta. 

The new space provides offices for the Academy staff, three classrooms, a conference room, a large parking lot and most important a kitchen that was quickly put to use and filled with food from the community to share with attendees, including a donation of cookies from The Willy St. Co-op and food from Mishqui Peruvian and El Chisme Elotes y Raspados. A back patio provided a perfect spot to eat outdoors and network. 

De Anda Santana, co-founded the Academy in 2011, which was housed in the Bridge-Lakepoint Center, a program of Vera Court Neighborhood Center. The small space housed many of the Academy programs and provided a home for them to launch, but as the demand increased, they knew that a new home was needed. The Academy provides linguistically and culturally competent adult education programming that advances opportunities to ensure that individuals and families thrive socially, economically, and civically.

Those classes, while valuable to residents, piqued the interest of insulator, Ivan Herrada of Milwaukee who drove to Madison to learn more about the Academy and its offerings. He explained to staff that he is always looking for resources to ensure the success of the Latino workers he employes and encounters and was excited by the array of trainings that the Academy offers. 

The April 12 Open House was attended by many of the same partners who attended the April 5th press conference, where U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin announced that she secured $2million in funding to help recruit, support and train members who are interested in obtaining their commercial driver’s licenses. The Academy hopes to raise an additional $10 million dollars that will be used to move into an even larger space, purchase new trucks and provide a large space for students to practice driving trucks. Those partners are eager to employ those who receive their CDL’s and other training provided by the Academy. 

Graduate Miriam Morales, completed the CDL program and was subsequently hired by the Dane County Highway and Transportation Department as a skilled laborer. She and other Latinos of the department came together to provide a donation to the Academy at the event to thank them for the support that has impacted their lives.  

Board President, Shiva Bidar, spoke about her pride in seeing the tremendous growth that the Academy has seen over the years. That growth and impact was compiled in the 2022 Impact Report, which details the history of the organization, the programs and the numbers. Numbers, like the 2,249 individuals served, 6.264 hours of instruction provided and the 201 individuals who found family sustaining employment in the skilled trades. 

As De Anda Santana shared with the room, “The Journey over….we have our home. The Latino Academy experience reminds me of our immigrant journey when we first come to this country. At the beginning we have to sleep in the living room of our tias, primos and hermanos. Our family gave us a small corner…then we were able to make our own money and find our own space. Now the Latino Academy has its own space. Our home. Your home.”