JUNTA Celebrates 49 Years, Welcomes New Leader

Allan Appel PhotoA little over a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the organization that took the local lead in aiding victims and resettling 450 families in our area celebrated 49 years of service — and announced hiring a new leader for the future.

Two hundred people were in attendance Thursday night at Amarante’s Sea Cliff Restaurant in Morris Cove to celebrate one year shy of the half century mark for the organization, Fair Haven-based Junta for Progressive Action (JUNTA).

Joining elected officials at the event were Karla Pantoja and Edwin Hernandez and their two kids Edrielys and Miie, who are remaining in New Haven, as are many of the families driven from their homes after the hurricane ravaged the island on Sept. 16, 2017.

JUNTA Interim Executive Director Alicia Caraballo, whose mom was one of the organization’s 16 founding families in 1969, said JUNTA performed not only its regular service and advocacy work but also extra feats of service and compassion as the city’s lead aid organization for Maria evacuees. Mayor Toni Harp described JUNTA as doing “pound for pound more for the victims than the federal government.”

Caraballo said that the year reaffirmed the original mission of JUNTA.

About 40 percent of JUNTA’s approximately half-million dollar budget comes from the state. That amount has been slashed during the recent cash-strapped years in Hartford, Caraballo noted. She characterized Thursday’s celebration and the moment for the organization as “emotionally positive but financially uncertain.”

That’s in part why a search committee and an outside firm sifted through hundreds of applicants and settled on a new executive director who combines executive experience in a service and policy advocacy organization with a track record of finding new funding sources in tough fiscal times.

That man, whom Caraballo introduced to applause from the party-goers, is Daniel Reyes. He joined a food advocacy organization, The New York Common Pantry, in East Harlem, 15 years ago as a program director. He rose to become its deputy executive director,.

During that time, the last five years of which Reyes was deputy executive director, the annual budget of the organization grew from $1.5 milion to $13 million, he said.

That caught the eye of the search committee, said JUNTA Board Chair Dominic Woolfrey.

Reyes, who currently lives in Queens, commutes to see his kids in Wallingford. He said he was drawn to coming to New Haven by JUNTA’s long and rich history in helping people and in advocacy.

“For people who experience poverty, it’s important for them to work for their own betterment,” he said. He lauded JUNTA as working on the larger systemic issues and as a policy advocate as well. It has been on the front lines of helping immigrants, including undocumented immigrants targeted by the federal government.

How does he plan to approach the precarious nature of the group’s funding? Short answer: “I place a strong emphasis on diversified funding streams.”

Reyes said he is giving himself a 90-day period to create an “action plan.” Its aim: To get to know the organization, review metrics, and acquaint himself with funding sources and community partners.

He plans to assess which kinds of activities JUNTA does best and to highlight them as the organization approaches foundations and other new funders.

“I have a long history” of being able to demonstrate how an organization is the “best steward of resources we’re given,” he added.

The evening’s recipients of JUNTA awards included Kica Matos, who revived and built up the organization as its executive director in the early aughts and was presented with the social justice and civil justice award; philanthropist William Graustein, who was given the group’s Community Partnership Award; and city emergency management chief Rick Fontana, who received the Humanitarian Award for his role in helping to coordinate help for Maria evacuees.

Reyes begins his job at JUNTA’s helm on Sept. 24.

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posted by: NHPLEB on September 8, 2018  5:19am

2 questions: 
Is Mr.  Reyes going to run JUNTA from Queens?

What has the JUNTA done for New Haven in 50 years?  New Haven Helping Puerto Rico is fine,  though that should have been a federal task,  but what do they do here for us?

posted by: BranfordResident_2 on September 8, 2018  4:44pm

Similar to what the Santa Maria Maddalena Society did for Italian immigrants in the late 1890’s. Assist fellow immigrants with translation services, legal help and assist with securing housing and employment - @NHBLEB
And new haven isn’t helping Puerto Rico. Junta is helping fellow American citizens from PR who were displaced by Hurricane Maria

posted by: 1644 on September 8, 2018  7:20pm

NH pleb:  JUNTA’s programs:

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on September 10, 2018  10:52am

What a wonderful celebratory event! To hear Alicia Carraballo speak about her mother as a founding member of Junta in the Hill was powerful!

It was so good to see my dear friends Bill Graustein and Kica Matos honored… REAL agents of change and influence. To be in that room with other fellow Americans from Puerto Rico was a blessing. It pains me when so many people have no idea where Puerto Rico is, and talk about Puerto Ricans as if they aren’t Americans. That kind of ignorance is unconscionable… Almost deliberate and willfully stupid.

I am glad Junta has hired a new executive director who seems eager to tackle the pressing matters that threaten its existence. Junta is needed desperately in these times of uncertainty. If this event is any indication of success, then New Haven is ready to welcome Daniel Reyes to our communities!

posted by: Teachergal on September 10, 2018  2:57pm

Does Junta have conversational Spanish for adults? If not where could I find classes?

posted by: 1644 on September 10, 2018  5:09pm

teacher gal:  It doesn’t appear that JUNTA does.  New Haven should have an adult education program, but I cannot find anything on the NHPS about any adult education.  The suburban systems do have adult classes in multiple languages, often aimed at future tourists.  For the East Shore its “ERACE”, which services multiple towns.  A thick catalog is mailed to all residents at least twice a year.



posted by: 1644 on September 10, 2018  7:13pm

North Haven & Hamden offer classes for $104.