MILWAUKEE — Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee honored several business and community leaders at its annual meeting Thursday, and it also presented scholarship awards to nearly 30 students.
The organization seeks to cultivate professional talent within Milwaukee's Hispanic community, and it has awarded 64 people since it began fifteen years ago. This year, it awarded four individuals and one business.
JoAnna Bautch was awarded as a rising leader for her role as the media relations and events coordiator at the United Community Center, an organization that primarily serves the Hispanic community on Milwaukee's south side.
"I'm passionate about helping the Latino community and making sure that we're advancing and making sure that we're open to opportunities just like everybody else," Bautch said.
According to a 2019 study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, Milwaukee's Hispanic population has grown by about 75,000 since 2000, and the study says the population is under-represented in many occupational fields.
HPGM President and CEO Griselda Aldrete says events like this help break that mold. Earlier in August, Aldrete was confirmed as the next executive director of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission. She says she's the first Hispanic to serve the role.
"I think at HPGM we always strive to break ceilings and barriers for people," Aldrete said.
The event also awarded scholarships to 29 students in undergraduate, graduate and 2-year degree programs. Since 2004, the organization has awarded $560,000 in scholarships to 139 students.
Zecilia Alamillo-Roman is a first-generation college and graduate student who received a $2,500 scholarship that her school, Marquette University, will match.
"My dream goal is definitely to have my own nonprofit at some point," Alamillo-Roman said. "I love giving back to the community and I think because of what HPGM has shown me and seeing so many successful Hispanics, they definitely serve as big role models for myself."
Other award winners say that kind of mentorship is critical.
"To me it’s important because I think a lot of people coming through our first generation business professionals and so to be able to have someone who understands where they started and I’m very similar to that," said Jim Gallegos, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary at Alliant Energy in Madison.
Bautch believes her mentor helped her get to where she is today, and she wants to continue to help others find their paths.
"Believe that you can, because if I can do it, you can do it too," Bautch said.