Celebrating Families Through Service and Festivals!


Consumers podcast graphic with image of Claudia Pohlen


In this week’s edition of Money, I’m Home, Lynne is joined by Claudia Pohlen of the the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. Tune in to hear about the ways the Center is working to support Latinx families in our community and what you can expect from this year’s Grand Rapids Hispanic Festival on Aug. 6-8.


0:00:06.4 Lynne Jarman-Johnson (LJJ): Money, I’m home. Welcome in, I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union, and we are here for you, from finance to fitness and even festivals! Today we’re here to talk with Claudia Pohlen. She is the fundraising manager, communication manager for the Hispanic Center of West Michigan. Claudia, thanks for being with us today.

0:00:27.2 Claudia Pohlen (CP): Thank you for having me, Lynne. How are you?

0:00:29.7 LJJ: I am so good, and I hope you are too. The weather looks spectacular. We’ve got a festival that we’re so excited to be a part of at Consumers. Tell us first off about you and when you started with the Hispanic Center.

0:00:42.5 CP: I started the Hispanic Center about a year ago. Actually, yes a year ago in July of 2020, so fun times to start a new job.

0:00:54.1 LJJ: No kidding.

0:00:55.5 CP: Right in the middle of the pandemic, but really it was a great time. There were a lot of good changes going on, the Center has been doing a great job supporting the Latinx community in West Michigan, and they have really… The organization has really stepped up during the pandemic, so I was excited to be part of that.

0:01:20.9 LJJ: Boy, I’ll tell you came in right at a time when there’s so much change and so much questioning about neighborhoods and community. Tell us a little bit about how you’ve been… You just mentioned that you’re really focusing in on the neighborhood. Tell me some of the things you’ve done over the past year and a half.

0:01:41.0 CP: Yeah, so the Center has taken over food distribution. That’s something that we didn’t used to have before. So, we partnered with different organizations, including Feeding America, The Kent County Health Department and other organizations. We were doing it once a week, and now we’re doing it every other week. And we have approached food insecurity from other angles, but never directly serving our community and giving folks food boxes. During the pandemic, at the beginning, we partnered with Metro. Also last summer of last year, we partnered with Meijer, we partnered with Spectrum Health Healthier Communities to do flu vaccination, and we served around 500 people on that.

0:02:34.3 LJJ: Wow.

0:02:36.0 CP: Yeah, and at the end of the year we gave 200 coats for our community and our neighborhood. And with the help of other partners, we have been able this year to deliver food boxes to elderly people at their house.

0:02:58.7 LJJ: It is amazing hands-on work, isn’t it?

0:03:02.1 CP: Yes, we’re definitely right there in the frontline, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. We have been very careful and we have been taking all the precautions we needed, but we really, when things started to open back up in June, we did that, we opened back up and we haven’t closed. We did some different schedules to protect our staff, but we have been there. We realized how much [more] likely the Hispanic community was to get COVID and what the ramifications of that was. So, we decided to stay open to be able to support our community one-on-one. We have also done vaccinations this year, so we have helped vaccinate about 1,500 people plus provide information for the community about the vaccines and the importance of getting that vaccine. Just in getting those vaccines closer to… Geographically closer to our community is something that is very important, so we keep going, we keep… Running our programs, running new programs and adapting to our community needs. Right now, I think it’s more important than ever.

0:04:31.1 LJJ: Well, I think that all of us have kind of closed our eyes. We open our eyes, and it’s time to, as they say, get out and about, but you’re right, and if you’re still seeing the issues of many individuals who have decided that they’re learning more about the vaccine and learning more about COVID before deciding to get that vaccine. One of the things I think that I’ve read is the stories about when you’re looking at populations who are unsure about it, how important it is, like the Hispanic Center to stand up and say, “Look, we’re here to help, and we’re here to answer all your questions.”

0:05:09.1 CP: Exactly, so… We have tried to take a proactive stance in asking people and meeting them where they’re at. We know that people or… We knew that people will feel comfortable just coming through our doors and getting vaccinated there. They know us, they know where the Center is, so they just come to the Center. They don’t have to go somewhere else. We were right there in the neighborhood. It was something that we really appreciated. We partnered with Metro, and we especially partnered with the Kent County Health Department to provide those vaccines. Actually, we still have vaccinations every Wednesday until August, first week of August where we are going… We have a mobile unit outside so…

0:05:57.5 LJJ: Oh, that’s great. Actually, when I was there, I had the opportunity to visit the Center, and boy, talk about hopping. It was busy. The mobile unit was outside. It was very exciting.

0:06:08.8 CP: Yes, yes, it is, it is. And we’re really happy that we’re still seeing people that are coming in, are getting their vaccines, are keeping themselves and their families in our community safe, so we’re very proud of that.

0:06:28.9 LJJ: Something big is coming up though next weekend. Tell us a little bit about the festival. Consumers is so excited to participate, not only with volunteers, but we’ll also be there with our financial wellness team.

0:06:40.1 CP: We are also very excited to have you there and being a partner. We have the Hispanic festival, from August 6 to August 8, and it’s a big event, it’s our biggest fundraiser that we have at the Center. We have been running this event for about 40 years, I believe.

0:07:03.7 LJJ: And it sure has grown.

0:07:05.7 CP: It has, it has, that’s what I’ve heard. I visited or I attended before, and it always amazes me how vibrant it is.

0:07:17.6 LJJ: Tell us a little bit about the festival, where it’s going to be located, and also, what should people think about bringing? Do you still need volunteers?

0:07:26.4 CP: Absolutely. We do need volunteers. The event is going to take place on Calder Plaza. It’s going to start on Friday, entertainment starts right at 6:00 and ends at 12:00 a.m. So, hopefully, it’s going to be a great party on Friday. We’re going to… Yeah, we’re going to have full futsal on Saturday, starting Saturday. So different clubs here in Grand Rapids are going to play right there at the Calder Plaza. We are getting a space for them. So, there are going to be a lot of families and a lot of young kids playing a soccer tournament. I love soccer, so I’m just going to peek in there and see and watch them play. We are also going to have on Saturday… Well, our start is on Friday, our Mercado, or Mercadito is small vendors or vendors that are going to have their merchandise from different parts of Latin America. So, we also have obviously our sponsors, Consumers Credit Union, we have Meijer, we have Spectrum Health. We are expecting 20,000 people during the weekend.

0:08:48.9 LJJ: So amazing!

0:08:50.6 CP: Yeah, it’s going to be outside, so most of half of the population in Kent County being vaccinated already, I think we are going to be quite safe. You can go to hispaniccenter.org and click on events, and click on The Hispanic Festival.

0:09:08.4 LJJ: Oh, this is great. Well, I just want you to know, Claudia, I’ve opened up the app for the Weather Channel, and it looks like you are in a perfect spot for a West Michigan summer. [laughter]

0:09:21.7 CP: Yes.

0:09:23.3 LJJ: I see 78, 79 and sunny, so congratulations and thank you for all of your hard work and for your help in our partnership too.

0:09:32.2 CP: No, we really appreciate you guys. And I think the more we can partner with different organizations, I think the more we are going to benefit our community. Like I said before, those are the partnerships that we want to bring to our community.

0:09:49.7 LJJ: We really look forward to a very long-term partnership, Claudia, and we’re going to kick it off at the festival. And you let us know too, if you are interested in volunteering, you can go to the website as well. Claudia, thank you so much and congrats for everything that you’ve done this year. It has not been an easy year, and here you are brand new. Really, salute to you.

0:10:11.8 CP: No, it’s amazing, it’s really great to work with a group of people that everyone is really committed to the mission of the Center, and everyone is really committed to our community and to help advance our community. And yeah, thank you so much, Lynne.

0:10:30.1 LJJ: Well, you definitely have done that. From food banks, to the vaccines, to a festival that’s just going to be so celebratory this year. Thank you so much, Claudia.

0:10:42.4 CP: Much needed festival, right?

0:10:44.0 LJJ: Absolutely. You got that right. Alright, we’ll see you there.

0:10:47.5 CP: See you, Lynne. Bye-bye, thank you.

0:10:50.7 LJJ: And thank you for joining us. I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson from finance to fitness, Money, I’m Home. I’d like to thank Jake Esselink for his production skills. And again, if you have any information or a topic that you’ll like to have us share, please do so. We love our listeners, we love those topics, and thanks for joining us today. Money, I’m Home with Consumers Credit Union.


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