Concilio - a Philly cultural institution - celebrates 50 years

The old­est Latino or­gan­iz­a­tion in Phil­adelphia has many events lined up throughout the year to com­mem­or­ate half a cen­tury of ser­vice.

This year marks the 50th an­niversary of Con­cilio - the Coun­cil of Span­ish Speak­ing Or­gan­iz­a­tions - the old­est Latino or­gan­iz­a­tion in Phil­adelphia.

To cel­eb­rate, the city will play host to a num­ber of events throughout 2012 - On Ju­ly 14 and 15, Con­cilio will kick off His­pan­ic Fiesta at Penn’s Land­ing; on Septem­ber 5, it will host its an­nu­al seni­or lunch­eon, and on Sept. 22, the group will present the an­nu­al Pu­erto Ric­an Fest­iv­al Awards Gala.

On Septem­ber 30, the Ben Frank­lin Park­way will fill with res­id­ents ready to cel­eb­rate the an­nu­al Pu­erto Ric­an Day Parade, and Con­cilio will hold a clos­ing ce­re­mony to the Pu­erto Ric­an Fest­iv­al Nov. 9 at its headquar­ters.

What’s the cause for all the cel­eb­ración? Per­haps it’s the fer­vor with which Con­cilio has served the grow­ing Latino pop­u­la­tion in Phil­adelphia over the years.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view Tues­day, June 19 in Con­cilio’s headquar­ters – an old bank build­ing at 705 N. Frank­lin St. – Ju­lie Cousler-Emig, deputy dir­ect­or of Con­cilio, said that the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s pro­gram­ming has ebbed and flowed since its in­cep­tion in 1962 based on the needs of the com­munity.

“Back in ‘62, there was noth­ing else,” she said. “This was ex­ist­ing so­cial and fraternal or­gan­iz­a­tions com­ing to­geth­er.”

Ori­gin­ally, in or­der to com­bat con­cerns of po­lice bru­tal­ity against their mem­bers, Cousler-Emig said that 22 frac­tured so­cial and com­munity as­so­ci­ations teamed up to cre­ate Con­cilio.

In 1967, the group of­fi­cially be­came a non-profit group.

On a mis­sion state­ment on www.el­con­, Con­cilio touts it­self as a “hu­man ser­vice or­gan­iz­a­tion that provides a net­work of fam­ily sup­port ser­vices to vul­ner­able fam­il­ies in East­ern North and North­east Phil­adelphia.” Con­cilio serves more than 9,000 res­id­ents a year in com­munit­ies from North­ern Liber­ties and Kens­ing­ton up through Fox Chase, Ox­ford Circle and Frank­ford.

The group is per­haps best known for found­ing the Pu­erto Ric­an Fest­iv­al Awards Gala in 1964 and the His­pan­ic Fest­iv­al at Penn’s Land­ing in 1981.

Over the years, Cousler-Emig said, Con­cilio has strived to be a place for “cul­tur­al pride, and a voice for the im­mig­rant pop­u­la­tion.”

For a time, she said, the group worked to provide a wel­com­ing cen­ter for new im­mig­rants to Phil­adelphia. In the sev­en­ties, she said, Con­cilio offered drug and al­co­hol coun­sel­ing and work pro­grams.

However, as the com­munity’s needs changed, Cousler-Emig said these ser­vices stopped, and Con­cilio now fo­cuses on provid­ing ac­cess to so­cial ser­vices, foster care and hous­ing ini­ti­at­ives.

ldquo;These pro­grams have been here for more than twenty years,” said Cousler-Emig. “We will help any­one who comes in­to our of­fice.”

In fact, she said, a lot of the work Con­cilio does now is re­lated to foster care and ad­op­tions and post-ad­op­tion ser­vices.

They work with about 80 chil­dren in foster homes.

Con­cilio also fo­cuses its ef­forts on hous­ing ser­vices like fore­clos­ure pre­ven­tion, as well as work­shops for first time home­buy­ers.

Cousler-Emig said the group also works to be very ac­count­able for its fund­ing.

The $3.5 mil­lion or­gan­iz­a­tion – the an­nu­al fund­ing of which is largely ob­tained through state and fed­er­al funds – is very con­cerned about its “fisc­al health,” she said.

“All of our money is pub­lic dol­lars,” she said. “We need to be uber-ac­count­able.”

Fur­ther ex­em­pli­fy­ing Con­cilio’s im­port­ance to the com­munity, loc­al film­maker Ben­jamin Barnett, of North­ern Liber­ties-based Me­dia Bur­eau Inc., has been work­ing with Con­cilio to cre­ate a ret­ro­spect­ive film he’ll show at an up­com­ing gala for the non­profit.

He said that while cre­at­ing the film, he’s learned about the his­tory of the group and has been in­ter­ested in Con­cilio’s on­go­ing abil­ity to con­nect many Latino com­munit­ies throughout the city.

“That’s what’s most in­ter­est­ing,” he said. “All these dif­fer­ent com­munit­ies have come to­geth­er un­der one flag, if you know what I mean.”

In fact, he’s be­come so in­ter­ested in Con­cilio, Barnett said he hopes to make the ret­ro­spect­ive film in­to a full doc­u­ment­ary over the com­ing year—he’ll then sub­mit the doc­u­ment­ary to film fest­ivals.

“Over 50 years in Philly…there’s just a labyrinth of in­trigue there,” he said.

To learn more about the times and loc­a­tions of this year’s Con­cilio events, vis­it www.el­con­ or call 215-627-3100.

Star Staff Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at hmit­

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