Acacia Network builds on a legacy of Latino pioneers

The Bronx-based organization has preserved and continued the work of activists, community leaders and other nonprofits since it was founded nearly two decades ago.

Lymaris Albors isthe CEO of Acacia Network (Image courtesy of Acacia Network)

Lymaris Albors isthe CEO of Acacia Network (Image courtesy of Acacia Network) Photo by Argenis Apolinario

Headquartered in the Bronx, Acacia Network is the largest Hispanic-led nonprofit in New York and one of the largest providers in the state with more than 100 programs and affiliates serving over 150,000 individuals annually. Acacia partners with communities to preserve community assets that were built in the late 1960s and 1970s by Latino pioneers. The organization develops affordable and supportive housing and runs after school programs, older adult centers, primary care clinics, residential and outpatient substance abuse treatment programs and more. 

Acacia traces its origins back to Hispanic activists, community leaders and affiliated nonprofits organizations. “Back in the sixties and seventies, there were a lot of pioneers, mainly in the Bronx, who fought for access to bilingual education, access to primary care, housing and senior services.” Lymaris Albors, the nonprofit’s CEO told New York Nonprofit Media. “Back in the day, there was a very well organized group of mainly Puerto Ricans that came together and were able, through that fight and advocacy, to create and incorporate nonprofit organizations.” However, such organizations were funded largely by third party revenue and grant funded dollars, and therefore lacked the infrastructure to be able to continue their services. 

Former Acacia CEO Raul Russi started the organization in 2005 to preserve these organizations. Now, while Acacia is now 18-years-old, some of its affiliates have been around for decades. 

“It’s a patent company because what we do is just infuse the expertise that we have created to make sure that they survive. So every entity that comes under the Acacia umbrella is an independent entity that keeps their name, EIN number and continues to provide their services. We just stabilize them and once we stabilize them we go on to build upon whatever expertise they have.” said Albors. 

Leading Acacia, Albors emphasized the importance of leading with cultural competency.

 “It’s the only way you can say you lead an organization that serves a population that we serve. When you belong to that community, when you speak the same language, when you understand what they go through every single day you are poised to truly lead and make an impact on the community,” she said. Albors described how Acacia refined its leadership team to reflect the diversity of the community that it serves. For example, 90% of those on its board of directors and executive leadership team identify as people of color.

“If you look at my organization chart, you’ll see women and men of all ages, all colors, all backgrounds and it’s very intentional.” said Albors. “We are a diverse integrated organization and we have been doing that for decades.”

Acacia also invests in the growth of its employees by offering scholarships for staff members to pursue education. “There are so many staff who have finished their education because of this scholarship. One recipient just finished her masters, and another is now a licensed social worker,” said Albors. Requirements for the scholarship are strict to ensure recipients are serious about their education. “Education, nobody takes from you. You can have titles, offices, you can do all of that but education is something that gives you power and liberty to really be the master of your destiny and that is a core value of Acacia,” Albors told NYN Media.

Albors highlighted the challenges and biases that she has faced as one of the very few Latina CEOs leading a nonprofit organization in New York. “You walk into a room and they see a young, 44-year-old Latina at the helm of a fairly large organization and with a thick accent so there are a lot of assumptions that people make when I walk into a room, but I’m aware of it and I have fun with it,” said Albors. She emphasized that it’s a challenge she uses to her advantage. “I’m young, I’m Latina, I’m a woman, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. People make a lot of assumptions. So, that is a challenge, but I use those challenges to my strength,” Albors told NYN Media. Despite the challenges, she has accomplished a variety of goals and initiatives as the CEO of Acacia, including the reactivation of the Losaida Center, a cultural center on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. 

“I do believe that culture is what truly heals our community. So, I felt very proud of Losaida,” said Albors. Another initiative that she advanced as CEO was the expansion of Acacia’s mission to Puerto Rico. “I’m super proud to tell you that we have 103 units of affordable housing for seniors in Puerto Rico and the design itself is an award winning design that we tested during COVID,” she said. 

Albors noted the importance of cooperation within nonprofit settings. “I want everybody at Acacia to be working together towards the same mission and the same purpose. I bring them all together. They have a seat at the table and a voice at the table and that is very, very rare in nonprofits,” said Albors. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of the quality services offered and provided by Acacia and their affiliates. “Everybody in charge of the clinics and services that we provide meet every single day to ensure that we’re providing the best quality service. So being large is good and being from the Bronx and the world is something we’re also really proud of, but for me it’s that we’re this large, and the quality of service never gets impacted,” said Albors. 

Albors oversees a $500 million portfolio of operations and said she is committed to cultivating a leadership team that reflects the community it serves. “It’s incredible to lead an organization that was founded by minorities, serves minorities, and is showing the world that the Acacia model should be a national model because preserving what was built for by community members for community members is key,” she said. “and it’s important that New York state and Puerto Rico provide what the community really truly deserves.”