Kiss From a Rose: Hispanic Connection of Southern Indiana Plans for Their Future

Its name is the Hispanic Connection of Southern Indiana.

But as William Shakespeare so eloquently wondered in Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name?”

Truth be told, the organization does so much more than just connect Hispanic individuals to resources. And to say its reach goes further than just Southern Indiana would be an understatement – the nonprofit has helped people in a dozen or more states as far west as California.

In fact, the nonprofit performs immigration services that simply aren’t available in most pockets of Indiana. Unfortunately, agencies like the Hispanic Connection are scarce throughout the Midwest, leaving an underserved and vulnerable immigrant population at even greater risk.

That’s why Lillian Rose, the Hispanic Connection’s President & CEO, has made it her life’s work to ensure immigrants of all backgrounds and nationalities get the support they deserve to become successful, legal residents of the United States. Since the organization opened in 2003, Lillian and her team have helped over 2,000 families obtain their permanent legal status and U.S. citizenship.

But at 82 years old, Lillian knows her professional career will conclude sometime soon.

With no immediate succession plan in place, Lillian and her Hispanic Connection team were told about a brand-new grant program that focused on improving the inner workings of local nonprofit organizations. The Capacity Building Grants Program, which was launched by the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana in April 2022, is dedicated to supporting organizations as they continue to provide the essential services they are uniquely positioned to offer.

Without missing a beat, Lillian and her team got to work on an application, using their past experiences as inspiration to seek funds to help create a realistic transition plan for the organization’s leadership.

Lillian Rose with her painting inside the Hispanic Connection’s headquarters in Jeffersonville

The Leader Behind the Machine

Lillian Rose is a woman who wears many hats. (And they should all come with a strap because even after eight decades on Earth, she still works at a break-neck speed.)

And boy – is she impressive.

Acting in the leadership she exudes, Lillian answers phones in Spanish and relays information to her crew in a mixture of English and Spanish. She is an expert on family-based immigration benefits, has counseled thousands of clients to obtain immigration relief, and is constantly learning about the ever-changing landscape of immigration in the United States.

She’s also a painter, because of course she is. Some of her art even adorns the walls of the Hispanic Connection’s headquarters in Jeffersonville. But if Lillian would tell it, she’s only the person she is today because of the team she surrounds herself with.

“My team is very important to me because they do so much for this organization,” Lillian says.

The Hispanic Connection of Southern Indiana got its start as its own 501c3 in the early 2000s following years operating under the Hispanic Ministry of New Albany Deanery umbrella. Originally, the organization helped just the Hispanic community. But today, the nonprofit works with clients from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Taiwan, China, Pakistan, Germany, and more.

The organization provides legal services and emotional literacy services to all immigrants. They are involved with the legal processes of immigration and local courts, even representing clients at interviews with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Essentially, they work as the buffer between their clients and the United States Government, ensuring all the legal and ethical boxes have been checked for citizenship.

And as United States immigration numbers have been increasing since the 1970s, Lillian is finding her staff busier by the day.

“It has been a tsunami of asylum requests lately. You heard about the problems at the border? Well, they’re here now and it’s a mess,” Lillian says. “I am trying to clean things up and get people where they’re supposed to be. But because we’re not lawyers, we can’t represent them in court – the most we can do for asylees is to submit their asylum and help them once they qualify for their work permit.”

Since she became President/CEO in 2014, Lillian has worked diligently at turning her organization into a regional hotspot for immigrants seeking asylum and citizenship. And her clients appreciate her efforts, as alternative immigration options are limited in this part of the country.

“We’re the only ones in Southern Indiana doing what we do,” Lillian says. “There is an organization in Jasper, Ind. that is run by a collection of nuns, but even they are coming to us to asking questions. I know there is an Office of Immigration in Indianapolis, but there, it can be difficult to even be seen. So, it’s just us, and we do the best we can with what we have.”

But who can’t use a little help sometimes?

Lillian posing with her new copy machine

Building Organizational Power

When Hispanic Connection board member Keith Pulliam talked with Lillian one day and discovered how much work she was doing behind the scenes with no end in sight, he knew he had to help. And as a board member of the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, too, Keith knew exactly which way to point Lillian.

“Keith, our board member, said something about a new capacity building grant program that just started at the Community Foundation, where he was also a board member,” Lillian says. “I get my staff and we check out the website. Sure enough, most of the things we were looking to accomplish were listed there.”

With funding opportunities up to $25,000, Lillian knew the grant would not only cover the planning and preparation of her leadership transition, but she could also request funding for other projects to help with day-by-day cases. In addition to a leadership succession plan, the Hispanic Connection application included a request for support of in-person training, a smart board purchase for remote training, a new copier, and funding for a case management program in their application.

The organization’s application was eventually selected, and the nonprofit was awarded their full request of $23,710.

Admittedly, Lillian’s first purchase was replacing a decades-old copy machine: “Oh, it’s beautiful. We can do so many things with this new one.”

The other important item on the application was to engage a consultant to create a leadership succession plan for the organization. And after more than 20 years of leading local immigration matters, compiling all her duties is sure to be no small task.

“Working with Lillian over the years, I have learned the ins-and-outs of her brain and how she works,” says Quita Rose-Corrao, a consultant for the Hispanic Connection and Lillian’s daughter. “So when we began working on the succession plan, we had to look at all the things my mother does now, what she has done in the past, and everything else that is in her head. What we learned is that it’s all in her head, so we are working together to get it on paper for her successor. She’s the epitome of a leader with a vision.”

With the Hispanic Connection having served more than 200 individuals so far in 2023, Lillian knows their work in this area is only going to grow in the coming years. And with only five full-time employees, there is potential that the task could be a daunting one. That’s why, according to Lillian, receiving the Capacity Building Grant was so instrumental for the organization’s growth – and she encourages other nonprofits in a similar situation to apply.

“This grant was just what we needed, and it came at a perfect time,” Lillian says. “I think this is something every nonprofit in this area should consider. Have a vision and think through how you want to expand. We have a tendency to want to run, but we can’t. Organizations must go slower. So come up with an idea for the next 2-3 years and be prepared for it to change. But have a good idea with who you want to service and how you can do that.”

(L-R:) Michelle Espinoza, Lillian Rose, Juan Chavez, and Olga Oliva make up part of the Hispanic Connection of Southern Indiana team

A Career Fulfilled

As for Lillian, she knows a retirement date is in her future. She might even know when it is – but she’s not telling anyone yet. She doesn’t want anyone to worry about the organization’s future because, after all, the leadership transition plan that the Community Foundation grant helped put in place will ensure the organization will be in good hands to continue its mission uninterrupted for years to come. 

Instead, she wants everyone to know how thankful she is that people throughout the community still think about her organization and the type of people that it serves.

“I think the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana is just wonderful. I think that of all the various foundations that do this type of work, the Community Foundation is probably the most compassionate and successful organization because it truly answers the needs of us, the nonprofits,” Lillian says. “They’ve never closed the door on us and always listen to us. I think it’s a great organization because it answers the needs of our community … which is exactly what a community foundation is supposed to do.”

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