Alumni Spotlight: Pablo Blank, CASA
Pablo Blank is the Director of Immigrant Integration at CASA and participated in our Summer 2006 Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with Blank about his work with immigration advocacy and service provision and his experience in the Certificate Program.
CPNL: The nonprofit sector is vast with many important causes to champion, what led you to pursue a career in your particular field?
Blank: When I came to the US fifteen years ago, I tried to shift to the nonprofit sector. I had worked in the corporate sector in Argentina for many years, so I was ready to make a change. The Certificate Program was very useful as I began this transition to working in the nonprofit sector. I particularly like the nonprofit sector because you can provide services to those who are most in need. I feel that in this sector, and in my current work, you have a significant impact on the lives of the people you serve. I feel like I am changing the world. And this impact isn’t just a day-to-day change, we are working to build a better future.
CPNL: CASA works to ensure the success of Latino immigrants in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. How does CASA build the necessary skills for immigrants to maximize their opportunities?
Blank: We are a unique organization because we provide services and work in advocacy and politics. Usually organizations do one or the other, but we do both things. We provide services to help immigrants in these communities accomplish more. Our services are also aimed to improve their daily lives and their quality of life. We provide legal advice, medical referrals, technology classes, wellness for day labor-workers, citizenship application assistance, financial education, tax preparation, etc. We work to provide these services which assist our communities in their everyday lives, but as an organization we also believe in building power. We want to improve the system so that one day the services we provide will not be necessary for success. The goal is that the conditions and the system will support immigrants so they can succeed without extensive additional support.
CPNL: There have been several changes to immigration policy in the past few years, and immigration will continue to change with the incoming administration. What are some of the current critical issues that need to be addressed for Latino immigrants in the US?
Blank: CASA doesn’t only serve Latinos; we have grown to serve many other immigrants. Probably 15% of our membership is from Western Africa, so we have definitely grown and diversified our organization. In regards to strategic planning, we have decided to include services for working families in general. We have noticed that the struggles the immigrant community faces are similar to those that the African American community is facing, as well as the working class. This is a broader issue, and we know that we must come together to improve the conditions for our populations.
With immigration policy particularly, there are some critical political issues that need to be addressed immediately. Most importantly are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status). The Trump Administration has tried to eliminate DACA and TPS, so we need to continue that advocacy and that fight to ensure that more than 2 million people can stay in the US and continue to be productive members of society. These are people who have been here for over ten, twenty, or even thirty years, and we need to work to make sure that they can have a path to citizenship. Additionally, we need to ensure that the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US also have a path to citizenship. On citizenship, the Trump Administration has created a huge backlog of applicants. They have tried to eliminate fee waivers, they have tried to increase fees for naturalization, among other things. The administration was building a ‘second’ wall, or an ‘administrative’ wall, to prevent immigrants from becoming US citizens. So, fighting against those changes is very important. We need to ensure that all immigrants have a path to become US citizens.
CPNL: What is one significant challenge you have faced as a leader in the nonprofit sector?
Blank: We serve people daily who are confronting real struggles to stay healthy, have housing, eat, find a job, etc. Coping with their suffering is a huge task. Of course, we feel energized by their fight, for their desire to improve their lives and the lives of their children. They make many sacrifices so their kids can have a better life. We all get the energy from their fight.
CPNL: Since leaving the Certificate Program, what work have you done that you are most proud of?
Blank: We have helped over 6,000 people to naturalize during my tenure with CASA. We have expanded our program to Pennsylvania and Virginia. And we have also expanded our free tax preparation program–we now help to prepare over 2,000 tax returns every year by expanding that program to Pennsylvania and Virginia. I am also a director of an AmeriCorps program, so I have had the chance to work with over sixty individuals who have been placed to serve with CASA for a full year. Seeing how they learn, and how they grow and develop skills during this program has been wonderful. They are all continuing this work in new positions. That has been a great success and something I love to watch. I am also involved in a number of different organizations as a volunteer. I work with Conservation Montgomery, Adventure Theater, and I have also been appointed by the County Executive to the Montgomery County’s Committee Against Hate Violence. So, the Certificate Program provided me with knowledge and a background that I use in my work with all these organizations as well.
CPNL: How has the Certificate Program helped you in your career?
Blank: It has helped a lot to understand the nonprofit sector in the US, being a professional who studied in another country. It was useful to further my understanding of the differences and the strengths of the nonprofit and public sectors in the US. The program is intensive in the best way. During the summer I participated, I read so many books and articles; and I met so many wonderful peers and professionals who were there to inform us and share their stories. It was a great experience, and I really think the Certificate Program was one of the keys for me to start my career in the US nonprofit sector.
CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals considering participating in the Program?
Blank: I would say that anyone should do it. It is a great opportunity to hear from experts in the field who really know the details. The professionals in the program are also so willing to hear your experiences and your own stories and learn from them as well. They are invested in you and your background. There is so much space to grow as a professional. The classmates and fellow participants are also wonderful, if you are lucky you will find that they will become life-long friends and companions that can help you in your own development. The Certificate Program is a great opportunity for professional development, and many of the things you will learn will help you in your own life.