Jefferson Award Winner Co-Founded LSPBy Sharon Chin

WINDSOR (KPIX 5) When Imelda Vera first moved to Santa Rosa, she didn’t know where to look for a job. Then she stumbled upon the referral service Latino Service Providers or LSP. Now Vera works at the Child Parent Institute, an organization that helps link families to housing and other needs. Vera found the job through LSP’s employment listings.

“Latino Service Providers were welcoming,” said Vera. “They were warm, and they were inviting.”

It’s exactly the kind of outcome Wanda Tapia-Thomsen hoped for when she co-founded the referral service in her garage back in 1989. Tapia-Thomsen said she and others were responding to an acute need: access to employment, health care, and other services for the growing Latino population of Sonoma County.

United States Census figures show that Latinos presently represent about one quarter of Sonoma County’s population. But by the year 2050, Latinos are projected to make up more than half the county’s total population. In the last three decades, LSP has reached out to those Latinos living in the county through monthly meetings, forums, social media, and a weekly newsletter.

“They’re armed with information to help themselves, to help their families,” explained Tapia-Thomsen. “We want them to come away with the thought of, ‘They are not alone. They’re not isolated.'”

In addition to its employment referrals, Latino Service Providers has sought to reduce the stigma of mental health care in the Latino community by encouraging its citizens to seek treatment, and encouraging young Latinos to pursue careers in mental health care. In addition, the organization became a lifeline for its community during last year’s firestorms, answering urgent questions from families who lost their homes.

Today its programs reach more than 100,000 people every year, in person and online. Executive Director Lupe Navarro credits Tapia-Thomsen’s determination as being the biggest asset LSP has.

“She talked about, ‘This is what we’re doing for the youth, and this is what we’re doing for the community,'” explained Navarro.

Tapia-Thomsen recently retired as the LSP’s Executive Director, but she’s still coordinating its health forum and mental health career symposium. Her volunteer experience over the years is extensive. She helped start the first food bank in Sonoma County and she is on the board of the Sonoma County Fair.

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