Servicios de la Raza is a household name when it comes to helping people find human services. For the past 50 years, the organization has served the Latino and all other minority communities of Denver and Colorado through mental health services, victim services, prison reentry services and employment coaching.
On Saturday, Servicios will be celebrating their anniversary the only way the organization knows how, a cookout on the Northside.
Servicios is hosting a Fiesta Cookout at Chaffee Park in Sunnyside on September 17th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. According to Rudy Gonzales, Servicios Executive Director, the event is a return to Servicios’ roots.
“North Denver is our home. It’s where Servicios de La Raza was founded 50 years ago in 1972 by the Chicano and Chicana community,” Gonzales said. “50 years old as a nonprofit of color? It’s very rare that a community based organization of color is around as long as Servicios. So, we decided to resurrect an event that we had done for several years when we were at our headquarters at 41st and Tejon. Let’s serve our community for free. Free food. Free health services. Free children activities. Let’s celebrate our work and service to others.”
Servicios has been instrumental in providing human services to Denverites. At one point, Servicios held the city’s main contract for post-jail assistance. During the pandemic, they provided vaccines and COVID assistance services, ensuring those disproportionately affected by COVID were served.
The bilingual organization started off looking to provide services to the spanish-speaking population of Denver. Gonzales said they became experts in serving Latino communities and the monolingual, bilingual immigrant refugee communities. Now the group has opened its doors to all ethnicities in Denver and across the state, including Pueblo and Adams County.
Servicios has also expanded. Besides mental and behavioral health, Gonzales said the nonprofit has begun working on health equity issues across the state. They are also helping families and those reentering society with navigating health benefit enrollments. Their reentry assistance also helps people find employment and housing.
Currently, Servicios has a staff of about 77 people, which Gonzales said makes the organization one of the largest nonprofits in the state that is Latino-led. But soon, Gonzales said that staff will increase to more than 100 people.
Gonzales said the organization’s longevity is rooted in their authenticity. Gonzales is the son of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, a leader of the Chicano movement. The family has continued supporting the movement and the Northside, becoming an important piece in Denver’s history.
Gonzales said the same goes for the people who work at Servicios.
“We are the community from which we come and serve,” Gonzales said. “We don’t helicopter into communities. We don’t colonize, we organize. We have people from all over and Chicanos like me, descendants of the first people of this hemisphere. We’re known as one of the few agencies that are staunch advocates and activists around the issues of equity, justice and peace. If it hurts people in our community, we’re standing up and giving voices to them. We are there for the people.”
That’s the plan for Saturday, being there for community members. Gonzales said they are ready to serve anywhere between 5,000 to 7,000 meals of burgers, hot dogs, chips, watermelon. It’s a family event, so no alcohol but Gonzales said, with a laugh, that there’ll be plenty of water.
Several awards will also be given out to community leaders such as Councilmembers Jamie Torres and Amanda Sandoval and Vinnie Cervantes, director and founder of Denver Alliance for Street Heath Response.
There will be a lowrider and motorcycle competition with up to $10,000 in prizes, a healing garden offering massages, therapy and indigenous cleansing and there will be a kid-zone. Gonzales emphasized that everything will be for free, just like the services Servicios offers.
“I like to call it a 10-ring circus,” Gonzales laughed. “There’s something for everyone and that’s reflective of Servicios. We have so many programs. We’re here 365 days a year doing this work and we continue to grow because the needs are so vast…There isn’t anything we can’t do if we have the resources and that’s part of equity. People know that.”