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Maria Matos: Leading the LACC for 25 Years
Maria Matos wants to be remembered as a kind, gentle spirit—with an iron fist.
She probably will be. Under her leadership, the Latin American Community Center, which is marking its 50th anniversary, has become the largest Latino-serving agency in the state and the leading provider of services to Latino immigrants in New Castle County.
As president and CEO of the center for the past 25 years, this 5-foot-2-inch, feisty woman has held firmly to the nonprofit’s mission to advocate for and address the needs of individuals in the Latino community.
More than 7,000 people a year seek help from the agency at 403 N. Van Buren St. Operating on an annual budget of $6 million, the center offers 25 programs, including mental health, immigration assistance, job-seeking assistance, housing, English language instruction, and bilingual education for children.
“Our goal is to improve lives,” says Matos, a 69-year-old native of Puerto Rico.
Matos says that when she took over the LACC in 1994, it was a “diamond in the rough.” “The first 25 years were very turbulent,” she adds. “No one provided the leadership needed.”
With the aforementioned iron fist, she provided that leadership. “Today,” she says, “the center is respected in the state of Delaware.”
And so is Matos. A recipient of numerous awards and recognized statewide as a community leader and advocate, she was inducted into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame last month.
“Maria Matos has been the driving force behind the success of the Latin American Community Center for a quarter-century,” says Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki. “If there is a stronger, more dedicated or more passionate advocate for the Latino community in and around Wilmington, I have yet to meet that person.”
Purzycki’s predecessor, Dennis P. Williams, also recognized Matos’ impact. He had a section of Van Buren Street where the center is located renamed “Maria Matos Way.”
Matos is a breast cancer and domestic violence survivor, and her experiences with poverty, discrimination, domestic violence, and social injustices toughened her and motivated her to help others while making the LACC a strong resource of social change.
“This is not a one-woman show,” she says, citing the support of board members, a dedicated staff of 105 employees, and numerous partnerships and supporters. Her success, she says, stems from “surrounding myself with people who know more than I do and being comfortable with that.”
In the next five years, Matos plans to have an infant and toddler center built across the street from the LACC and a playground at Fourth and Harrison streets. She also plans to help with the eventual transition to a new LACC executive director and CEO.
For more information about the LACC, visit thelatincenter.org, or go to facebook.com/LACCDE.