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Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES)

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Front facade of the St. Paul headquarters of CLUES

The front facade of the St. Paul headquarters of CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio, 797 East Seventh Street), September 26, 2019. Used with the permission of CLUES.

Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES) is the largest Latino-led nonprofit in Minnesota. It formed in 1981 in St. Paul in response to the need for language-appropriate, culturally competent mental health services for the Latino Spanish-speaking community. Throughout the history of CLUES, as the Latino community has grown, the agency’s leaders have identified new opportunities to support Latino children, families, and individuals.

The agency began humbly in 1981 under the leadership of its first executive director, Donna Sherlock. Sherlock supervised a staff of three that included two social workers, and CLUES opened its doors as a storefront on Robert Street (between Ninth and Tenth streets) in downtown St. Paul. At the time, the acronym stood for Chicanos Latinos Unidos En Servicio. The agency moved in 1983 from downtown to a leased space on the corner of Plato Boulevard and Robert Street, allowing it to expand its services on the West Side.

Rafael Ortega succeeded Sherlock as executive director in 1984 and led CLUES to add
services and locations. Over his eleven-year tenure, Ortega expanded services to address employment, education, and chemical health services. He created a new program for seniors, introduced an afterschool program called La Escuelita, and launched a new service center in South Minneapolis. He also added a research component called Hispanic Advocacy and Empowerment through Research (HACER).

During the 1990s, the Twin Cities’ Latino community grew twofold, increasing demand for social services. In 1995, the CLUES board of directors appointed Jesse Bethke Gomez its third executive director, and over the next seventeen years the agency more than doubled in size. It conducted its first capital campaign, built its headquarters on the East Side of St. Paul (797 East Seventh Street), and helped both HACER and La Escuelita become their own independent organizations. Construction of the new CLUES headquarters in 2004 was a major milestone that established CLUES as a mature institution.

In 2004, CLUES collaborated with the State of Minnesota to support an official state visit by His Excellency Vicente Fox, President of Mexico. Bethke Gomez and CLUES played a key role in organizing the meeting by connecting Mexican consul Carlos M. Sada with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. In part because of the success of President Fox’s visit, in 2005 the government of Mexico chose CLUES’ St. Paul location as the site for the Forty-sixth Consulate of Mexico in the United States.

CLUES’ board of directors appointed Ruby Lee its president and chief executive officer in 2012. Lee refined the group’s mission, seeking “to advance the social and economic equity and well-being for Latinos by building upon our strengths and cultures, uplifting our community, and activating leadership for systemic change.”

Thanks to the efforts of Lee, staff, funders, and the board of directors, CLUES doubled the size of its East Side St. Paul location in 2019. The agency continued to support Latino youth, individuals, and families, and the new 40,000-square-foot building offered more open spaces to foster social capital: a Latino Arts Gallery, a Teen Tech Center, technology and arts classrooms, additional behavioral health clinics, and classrooms that could function as one larger meeting room. In 2022, Lee explained that “CLUES takes a transformational approach within the community. We are trauma informed, holistic, and culturally anchored whereby we work on changing narratives, changing behaviors, and changing systems for the better whereby people feel valued and live thriving lives.”

In 2022, CLUES has 150 staff, over 600 volunteers, and thousands of participants who come to connect to resources, community, Latinx art, and cultural traditions. Lee says, “We are proud to provide a sense of belonging and networks of support for our Latinx community, and for people from all walks of life who choose us to connect them to resources and opportunities. Whether at our East Side St. Paul headquarters, or our Minneapolis locations, or our offices in Wilmar or Austin, Minnesota, we are a welcoming home that connects access to opportunities.”

Editor’s note: This article uses both “Latino” and the gender-neutral “Latinx” to reflect the evolution of terms since CLUES’ founding in 1981, as well as the diversity of preferences of CLUES’ constituents.

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Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio.
https://clues.org

De La O, Gilbert. Interview with the author at Burrito Mercado, St. Paul, November 15, 2018.

Lee, Ruby (president and chief executive officer of CLUES). Video-conference interview with the author, June 24, 2022.

University of Minnesota, College of Liberal Arts. Chicano & Latino Studies.
https://cla.umn.edu/chicano-latino

Related Images

Front facade of the St. Paul headquarters of CLUES
Front facade of the St. Paul headquarters of CLUES
Front entrance of the St. Paul headquarters of CLUES
Front entrance of the St. Paul headquarters of CLUES
Dancers at Gala Latina 2017
Dancers at Gala Latina 2017
Latino Youth Conference 2018
Latino Youth Conference 2018
CLUES ribbon-cutting ceremony
CLUES ribbon-cutting ceremony
CLUES art gallery
CLUES art gallery
Dancers at Fiesta Latina 2021
Dancers at Fiesta Latina 2021
Art display inside CLUES
Art display inside CLUES
Side of the St. Paul headquarters of CLUES
Side of the St. Paul headquarters of CLUES

Turning Point

In 2004, CLUES opens its new headquarters at 797 East Seventh Street, on the East Side of St. Paul.

Chronology

1981

CLUES incorporates and opens a storefront office in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, with four employees.

1983

CLUES opens offices on the West Side of St. Paul, in the Westport Building.

1987

CLUES begins to offer a seniors program previously located at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in St. Paul.

1987

CLUES and community collaborators form Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research (HACER). Community-based research forms the basis of much of the policy work guided by CLUES.

1991

CLUES opens its Minneapolis offices on Nicollet Avenue.

1992

CLUES begins providing chemical health services.

1995

The CLUES board of directors appoints Jesse Bethke Gomez its third executive director and changes his title to president to reflect the institutionalization of CLUES. The agency has thirty-five employees.

2001

CLUES launches a $6 million capital campaign to provide for a larger location at the Coliseum Building on Lake Street in South Minneapolis, and to secure a new headquarters in St. Paul.

2004

CLUES conducts a ground-breaking ceremony for a building on the East Side of St. Paul, at 797 East Seventh Street. In the same year, Hispanic Business magazine names CLUES among the top twenty-five Hispanic non-profit agencies in the US.

2005

The government of Mexico chooses CLUES’s Seventh Street location as the site for the Forty-sixth Consulate of Mexico in the United States.

2005

CLUES changes its name from Chicanos Latinos Unidos En Servicio to Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio to reflect the growth of the diversity of Minnesota’s Spanish-speaking and Indigenous communities from throughout the Americas.

2011

CLUES celebrates thirty years of service in Minnesota. It has three major locations: its East Side headquarters; a leased building in Minneapolis; and Aging Well Services on the West Side of St. Paul.

2012

The board of directors of CLUES appoints Ruby Lee as its fourth executive leader. Her title is President and Chief Executive Officer.

2019

CLUES doubles its space by expanding the 797 East Seventh Street headquarters through a capital campaign, strengthening CLUES as an anchor institution.

2021

CLUES celebrates its forty years of service.

2022

In addition to its St. Paul headquarters, CLUES has locations in Minneapolis (777 East Lake Street), Austin, and Willmar.