RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- Jesse Melgar, who was raised in Riverside, stresses the Inland Empire is often overlooked.
"When it comes to public and private dollars, when it comes to philanthropic dollars," he said.
After leaving the California Governor's office, Melgar founded Cultivating Inland Empire Latino Opportunity (CIELO) Fund, which launched this weekend under the Inland Empire Community Foundation.
"The fund will support and invest in Latino-led and Latino-serving organizations," said Melgar.
It begins by offering a demographic snapshot of the Latino or Latine community that now makes up more than half of the region.
In partnership with UC Riverside Center for Social Innovation, the CIELO Fund released a report titled "Aquí Estamos" or "We are Here."
"We wanted to make sure that, coming out of the gate, we knew where Latinos are excelling, but also where there's need that exists," Melgar said.
The report highlights areas of improvement, but remaining disparities including homeownership rates, health insurance coverage, income, and education.
"High school and college graduation rates increased slightly," said Melgar. "Only 11% of our community in this region has a bachelor's degree or higher when the state and national averages are about 33% and 35%. So, we know there's work to do there," he added.
The report also found that the growth rate for this population in Riverside and San Bernardino counties is among the highest in all of Southern California.
The fund aims to increase research about the needs of the Latino and Latine communities, opportunities for scholarships and internships.
"There's really a lot of emotion that comes with this fund because the struggle for these communities has been very impactful, and we've seen it through COVID, right? And we will continue seeing it," said Luz Gallegos, executive director of TODEC Legal Center and member of the CIELO Fund's leadership committee.
Nonprofits continue to provide services, even when the funding is not enough, said Gallegos.
Through the pandemic, TODEC has provided financial assistance, legal services and more.
"It's important for nonprofits to be valued, and to be respected as our expertise in the work that we do, because we truly do it with out of our hearts. But at the same time, we want to make sure we're taking care of our teams, that we're providing quality services to the residents here in the Inland Empire," she said.
The initiative aims to be part of the solution for diverse communities in the I.E., including the Latine community, to thrive.
"Our community has always been present," said Gallegos. "The data shows now that we are a force to be reckoned with."
"No vamos a parar," she said. "We're not going to stop."
"We're going to continue organizing, mobilizing, and making sure that systems really address the needs of our community in general."
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