Casa Central Helps North Park Students Complete Graduate Degrees

North Park University graduate Rebecca Gonzalez

CHICAGO (January 15, 2010) – December 11 was a day to remember for North Park University’s winter Class of 2009, especially for graduate Rebecca Gonzalez.

A wife and a mother of two young sons, Gonzalez received her master’s degree in nonprofit administration during the evening commencement service—an achievement nearly a decade in the making.

“I didn’t realize it was 10 years until I reviewed my transcript,” she admits, adding that completing her degree required no small amount of perseverance. Initially, she didn’t think she could do it at all. But North Park’s partnership with Casa Central, the largest Latino social service agency in the Midwest, encouraged her to try.

For Gonzalez, Casa was familiar. Located about five miles south of the University in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, “It was in the heart of the community where I was born and where I work,” she says.

The University began offering courses at Casa 10 years ago, and about six years ago, received a grant from the Brinson Foundation to help increase access among Latino nonprofit professionals for North Park’s program there. The Brinson grant has been renewed every year since, and today approximately 12 students have completed their graduate degrees in nonprofit administration, and more than 50 have completed graduate certificates in nonprofit management by taking courses at Casa. Its founder and Senior President Emeritus Rev. Daniel Alvarez was previously employed by North Park in an advisory role; his wife, Casa CEO Ann Alvarez, has served on the University’s Board of Trustees; and North Park alumni have gone on to work at Casa in a variety of capacities. In November, North Park even received Casa’s Faith in Action Award for its work in Chicago’s Spanish-speaking communities, through student internships, volunteer programs, and partnerships with local churches and public schools.

“To attend courses at Casa on Tuesday afternoons proved to be a win-win scenario,” says Gonzalez, adding that the organization became her educational home. She says she especially appreciated the ways her coursework combined core nonprofit principles with current business practices exercised by leaders in the sector.

“The support network that God provided through my family, Rev. Alvarez, and North Park’s faculty and staff kept me motivated and encouraged. And the needs of my community and those of the nonprofit sector were the fuel that reignited my dream, each time it was threatened by life’s challenges,” she says.

For Gonzalez, who aspires to “contribute to the strategies, responses, and solutions the nonprofit sector provides the Latino communities in Chicago,” the experience was preparation for success in the private and nonprofit sector alike. In fact, in July she transitioned into a new role—working at Casa Central as assistant to the president, and managing the organization’s church relations and youth programs.

She now encourages those who are insecure about completing a graduate degree to push past their excuses, go for it, and keep at it.

“You can’t afford not to finish,” she says. “The path before you does not only lead to professional growth, it actually leads to growth in every sphere of life. And challenges do not exist to limit you—they exist to unleash untapped potential that otherwise would go undiscovered.”

To learn more about North Park's graduate programs in business and nonprofit management, including course offerings at Casa Central, visit the School of Business and Nonprofit Management online.