Latino Chamber launches “Protege a Tu Familia, Protege Su Negocio”: Conducting Healthy Business

07122021JessicaCavazos

Jessica Cavazos (with her son Kaled Xopin) and the Latino Chamber of Commerce are initiating a vaccine promotion campaign targeting businesses and families.

Part 1 of 2

By Jonathan Gramling

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Madison area in mid-March 2020, the Latino Chamber of Commerce had a lot on its plate. It had to make sure that it while it was sheltering in place that it would be able to survive.

“The Chamber went through a really rough time,” said Jessica Cavazos, the CEO of the Latino Chamber. “A lot of our funding comes from events, such as the unrestricted funding from the gala, which helps our operations. We didn’t have that during COVID-19. So we had to become innovative in how we do things and we had to become more efficient. We went totally remote from March 2020 to June 2021. But we learned that the pivot is sometimes based on trying new things.”

The Chamber also had to help its business, members and non-members, weather the storm.

“I think what COVID-19 did was made us stronger because we already had a strong model,” Cavazos said. “And during COVID-19, basically those who were serving and knew how to serve efficiently were the ones who were able to weather the storm. I think we had over 4,000 businesses service contacts. Some are duplicates because they came to us 3-4 times. And it wasn’t just Latinos. We found that there were diverse communities that needed assistance with PPP, with their applications for EIDL grants, grant applications for Dane County and others. We continued to plug along. The three staff members weren’t enough so we sought assistance from Lighthouse School and their teachers. The teachers did some of the groundwork for us and then we got back to those who needed additional assistance.”

The Chamber also had to keep assisting businesses with other aspects of their planning or operations during the pandemic.

“24 hours after the closures happened, we did a zoom outreach meeting to all of our members and to people who were in our incubator classes,” Cavazos said. “We taught them how to sign up for and use zoom. We lost about 20 percent of our incubatees. But the rest stayed on board. This year, some of the people we lost during COVID-19 came back and started new businesses, different from the ones they were going to start last year. We’re seeing a lot of new industries and a lot of people testing new things and trying to create new businesses out of that. A lot of new food carts are in consideration and a lot of mobile businesses, services that are being provided at the establishment and being taken to the establishment rather than having a brick and mortar location. I think it is more financially feasible for those small businesses. COVID-19 really showed us that one, we had to work in tandem and collaboration with our community. Through our affinity to those who were our members and people who we sometimes under-connect with, we found that some people who had these skills came to us and said, ‘What do you need and how can we help you?’ During that time, I think community was really important, connecting to people who wanted to help others and us valuing what they could offer. Sometimes they say, ‘Oh we want to volunteer’ and then never get the callback. We reached out to a lot of our volunteers and without those volunteers, this operation would have not been successful and I don’t know if we would be here.”

Nonetheless, the pandemic did take its toll.

“We saw a lot of businesses close, but not as many as I thought would close,” Cavazos said. “I heard national stats that said that one in two businesses were going to close due to the pandemic and not reopen, which are the micro-businesses. And really it was way less than that. They still continue to operate. Some of them had storefronts close. But then they learned how to do it online. And then they found that maybe that was maybe even better because they didn’t have walk through traffic. Some good things happened during COVID-19. People learned a new way of doing business.”

And as things began to open up, people emerged once again and the Latino Chamber held an in-person sponsor appreciation event.

“People were excited to come out and convene and hug,” Cavazos said. “Some people don’t like to hug and will hardly shake your hand. The wonderful thing that I see at these events is that anything is acceptable now. Whether or not you have your mask on, whether or not you don’t want to shake hands or hug, we are all like, ‘Cool!’ I think we are just happy to see each other in whatever way you come in. I’m excited. I just went to an event on Saturday and there were about 150 at the event. Everyone was enjoying the fireworks and each other. We’re human. Most humans want that other human response that warms. And I think sometimes Latinos, we’re very huggy and affectionate. It’s been a tough year in every realm because people are missing that one-on-one connection. What I am seeing is that everything is much more meaningful because we haven’t seen these people in almost a year and a half. These conversations are more meaningful. It’s like we are catching up and asking, ‘What happened in the past year? How are you?’ Those frivolous arguments that happened two years ago don’t matter anymore. After the pandemic, we learned that we need each other more than ever. We’re all interconnected by health. If one is sick, we’re all sick. That’s what it seemed like during COVID-19. No matter if you are wealthy or you’re poor, we can get the same thing. And we have to work through it. It’s impressive how I used to see people with masks and I was like, ‘Oh how weird.’ And now that has all changed. Now we are all conscious that this is the container that we have. We have to take care of it. But we have to do it just not for ourselves, but also for others. That’s very important.”

As soon as they became eligible to in April, Cavazos and her staff got vaccinated. While COVID-19 has receded in recent months, its Delta variant is starting a comeback and signs are that the people who are being hospitalized and dying during this new wave are people who have not been vaccinated.

And Cavazos knows that in order for the Latino economy to recover in Dane County and beyond, the families, its consumers and the businesses have to be healthy and safe. And so in order for the Latino economy to open and grow stronger and not be forced to shut down again, Cavazos and the Latino Chamber know that the Latino community needs to get vaccinated. This has led the Chamber to implement the Protege a Tu Familia, Protege Su Negocio campaign.

Next issue: Getting the Community vaccinated