Oscar Mireles, Networking and Helping Set the Community Agenda: Sitting at the Table

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In addition to his work as executive director of Omega School, Oscar Mireles serves on many boards and commissions to further his interest in the arts, youth and public policy.

Part 1 of 2

By Jonathan Gramling

The saying goes that if you are not seated at the table, then you become an item on the menu. In other words, if people of color are not at the decision making table, then they will be acted upon instead of acting in their own best interests and making their community — Madison and Dane County — a better place with a higher quality of life for all people.

For the past 25 years or so, Oscar Mireles has been the executive director of Omega School, which helps p lwaukee including as associate executive director of the United Community Center. He moved to Madison to head Omega School. eople attain their GEDs and HSEDs. Mireles was born and raised in Racine before working professionally in Milwaukee including as associate executive director of the United Community Center. He moved to Madison to head Omega School.

Almost like living organisms, non-profit agencies exist in an environment in which they interact with forces, both positive and negative. And it is the CEO’s job to represent their agency in the broader environment in order to garner resources and to protect it against some of those negative forces.

Without that proactive engagement and representation, it is only a matter of time before the agency loses its way and eventually disappears from the non-profit landscape.

 

Mireles has a profound understanding of the need for engagement and uses that engagement to further the interests of his agency and the people they serve, youth of color, the Latino community and the community at-large depending on the venue and the opportunity.

But first, it is necessary to secure the home base before venturing off into the community.

“Our board understands that my work out in the community has really benefitted Omega,” Mireles said. “I make contact with people who can support what we do at Omega. As a director, you have to have the internal awareness to do what you need to do fulfill the contracts and then the second thing is you need the external contacts so that people know what you do. Part of being able to do the other work is that I have a foundation here at Omega that works for me, works for our staff and works for our board. With that being stable, I can do other things. At other places, people kind of jump out there first and they don’t have their house in order.”

One of the roles that Mireles plays is as an advocate for diversity and inclusion. In 2019, he became involved with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s diversity committee. MSO was working to expand its audience to include people from Madison’s communities of color. In his own way, Mireles worked to expand their reach into communities of color.

“In the fall of 2019, in talking with some members of the committee,” Mireles said. “They had mentioned they had a Christmas concert. I had never been to the symphony in my 20 something years here. They offered some tickets to me. In handling the tickets, instead of trying to find people who wouldn’t necessarily ever go to the symphony, I tried to target middle income and Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans who could possibly either buy tickets in the future for a show or become season ticket holders or possibly serve on the board. They had opportunities for their Christmas concerts. I went to the concert on Friday night. We had 15 people come and they had a reception afterwards. They had an African American singer who was performing. I went on Saturday and on Sunday. About 40 people had a chance to go and see the show, participate in the reception afterwards and got to meet John De Main and the artists. The main thing is they felt kind of welcome. With a lot of organizations, getting through that door is perceived sometimes to be closed. They get people in the seats and they get people to see it. People two years later kind of remember the show. I just see my role as how do you help organizations become more diverse one step at a time. You have to build trust and relationships. Those are the things that are kind of important.”

For several years, Mireles has been on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. It’s a kind of two-way street for Mireles. He brings an understanding of the Latino community to the club’s board and also makes contacts and a greater understanding of how the “non-profit game” is played on a higher level.

“We went to a national conference,” Mireles said. “They have a staff track and a board track. It was nice to see the big picture of what is going on in the Boys & Girls Club movement. Clearly Michael is leading the way on a lot of the projects that are going on nationally. Our club isn’t the largest. But in terms of per capita growth, it has been growing by about a million dollars per year in the last several years. That is some exponential growth. The opportunity to open up the McKenzie Sun Prairie Center, part of it is Michael is just highly visible and people tend to feel he is approachable. People who don’t know him reach out. I think the Sun Prairie facility with a child care center on site and the facility is remodeled so that it suits the requirements of a Boys & Girls Club. And now they are working on a Skill Training Center. I remember having a conversation even when we were in Atlanta for this regional training and he mentioned that a funder wanted to do something in the skilled trades. I said that it wasn’t exactly what we were doing, but we put it in the strategic plan.”

And Johnson made it happen.

Next Issue: Latino Consortium for Action and more