According to the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals of Hispanic and Latino ethnicity make up nearly one-fourth of the population in Holland, Michigan. While their heritage, traditions, and language should be celebrated, they often create barriers for individuals as they are building their careers. Martin Veliz has seen these barriers work firsthand and is looking to help change the narrative for the Latino community in west Michigan.
Martin Veliz is currently the president of the board for Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP), and his driven personality has created a desire to empower those around him. Described by one of his colleagues as thoughtful, passionate, and level-headed, Veliz has big goals for the influence that the nonprofit organization has in west Michigan.
Veliz’s yearning to give back stems from his upbringing in a family of hard-working, migrant farmers. Born in Missions, Texas, Veliz grew up traveling north each year so his parents could work on the farms in west Michigan. His parents dedicated much of their lives to providing for him and his three sisters, instilling their work ethic in Veliz, and making him the man he is today. By the age of six, Veliz and his family moved to Michigan permanently where Leviz attended public schools and graduated from Holland High School.
When Veliz and his family first moved to Holland, he remembers attending events that LAUP would throw where the Latino community would come together to celebrate their culture and traditions. In a recent LAUP board member spotlight, Veliz mentioned that he and his sister would even participate in the traditional folklórico dance at LAUP’s fiesta that was held in downtown Holland.
The 501(c)3 nonprofit organization has been an impactful force in the Holland area well before Veliz and his family encountered it. Established in 1975 after the merging of four grassroots organizations, their vision is simple: “to be the center of influence in our Latino community that builds bridges to opportunities and creates pathways to success for all”. In implementing this vision, they emphasize three core pillars: advocacy, education, and celebration. With two youth programs and adult programs that include English as a second language (ESL), general education development (GED), and citizenship programs, LAUP has continued to provide the Latino community with resources to empower themselves and those around them for current and future generations.
Over the years, Veliz has realized that the LAUP community was the support his family needed when they made their big move up north.
“My parents were migrant workers and the resources that they needed when they first got here is what LAUP helps to provide,” Veliz said.
Now with a family of his own and a successful career in business banking, Veliz recognizes how the people around him shaped his experiences and opportunities growing up. He realizes he too can shape the lives of the people he encounters in his growing role in the Latino community and west Michigan as a whole.
“[I’m] trying to give back, [it’s] kind of full circle where now I’m in a position to try to help those people as well,” he says.
His journey to influence and leadership was sparked by a simple and unexpected Facebook post from LAUP seeking new board members.
“For me, it was kind of astonishing that an organization like LAUP would have to go to the masses for board members,” he said.
Nonetheless, he seized the opportunity, becoming one of eight new board members for the organization in December 2018. In his initial role, Veliz found himself giving insight, developing new ideas, and providing guidance for what direction the organization should be going. When he became a board member, Veliz had one focus, to make LAUP the center of influence in the Latino community.
“For me, it was just giving a voice and making sure I was holding myself accountable to the community, for the community,” he says.
Since then, Veliz’s passionate leadership has led him from a board member, to board treasurer, to board vice-president, and eventually board president in June of 2022. As president, he still seeks the same impact from the organization that he now leads, but his duties have evolved with his new role.
“I have to make sure that I’m leading the 15 board members including myself,” he says. “You have to think higher level now of long-term sustainability.”
He wants to keep the organization’s impactful legacy everlasting. Just as he is now giving back, he hopes that LAUP can empower Latino youth to do the same one day. To do that, it takes 100 percent of his effort as well as his team’s. On a typical day, Veliz will spend time organizing board meetings, meeting with community members, meeting with potential donors, and planning events. This is all on top of his day job as a Business Banking Client Manager at Huntington Bank.
Johnny Rodriguez, Executive Director of LAUP, believes that appointing Veliz as president has greatly contributed to the organization’s rapid growth.
“Martin leads by example,” Rodriguez says, “to me, that is a sign of a strong leader. He is committed to developing pathways of opportunity, taking inspiration from his family’s lived experiences. I am blessed to work at his side as we live out LAUP’s mission.”
In his few months as president, his ability to take on and oversee several different projects, has set the tone for what kind of leader he is and the potential he has moving forward. From helping LAUP get its own office building, to organizing a sell-out gala, Veliz will do whatever it takes to make sure LAUP breaks down barriers for Latinos in our community.
Baruch de Carvalho, communications and development coordinator at LAUP, describes Veliz as the type of leader that speaks and acts with a purpose and wants nothing but the best for the organization.
“He comes in and he’s involved and that shows me that he does really care about the organization and wants to lead and wants the organization to succeed,” Carvalho says. “[He is] able to lead in that style where it’s a good relationship both ways and not just a boss.”
Popular author Ken Kesey describes Veliz’s leadership perfectly as he states, “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case”.
Today, Martin Veliz has the same goal as the day he saw that Facebook post, to give the Latino community in west Michigan the voice that they deserve. He wants nothing but to see his Latino culture be recognized and celebrated. That is why he joined LAUP’s board in 2018, and that is why he has assumed a leadership position in the organization today. He hopes that in his efforts to give back to a community that did so much for him, he is setting an example for others to give back to future generations that are yet to come.