Karina Perez has served as the Executive Director of Centro Hispano since 2017. Located in Columbus, Centro works to serve immigrant families, learners, and entrepreneurs in rural Nebraska through a variety of programming and services. Centro is just one of the ways Columbus aims to be more welcoming and inviting to new Americans looking to make their home in Greater Nebraska. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to Perez. Her parents left El Salvador decades ago seeking new opportunities in California. After having children, their priorities shifted, and the good life came calling.
Perez loves Columbus but she didn’t always envision a future there. “It wasn’t where I thought I would find opportunities,” she said.
She moved to Omaha to pursue a higher education but soon she “felt really distant and disconnected. I did have friends but as I started to think about my future it was not the same outlook I thought the city could provide.”
Today, Perez’s roots in the Columbus community run deep. Both she and her husband Aaron, a firefighter, and their three children enjoy having tons of extended family close by. Perez is particularly proud of and grateful for the collaborative spirit and acceptance of change and new ideas that exist in her community. “You don’t want to live in a community that’s not advancing.”
Perez brings important and invaluable perspective to the Nebraska Community Foundation statewide board of directors, upon which she has served since November 2021. “How do we get the NCF network to be more representative of what Nebraska really looks like? Young people, diversification of income, families of color, and more women in leadership.”
Perez says becoming more diverse only stands to benefit the network. “What excites me about newcomers is all of the potential. We are creating innovation here.”
But she says there are a lot of persistent misconceptions about newcomers and the clients Centro serves. “All of our newcomers are very similar in the sense that they come in looking to make a home,” she said. “They are more than willing to give back to their communities with time, talent, and treasure.”