When Hugo Zurita started his job as executive director of Good Neighbor Settlement House a few months ago, he did not imagine how vital the organization was going to become as the COVID-19 pandemic reached Brownsville and left thousands of community members without a job.
Zurita, who has a master’s degree in non-profit management from Purdue University in Indiana, said while he always knew how important the help the settlement house brings to the community was, he did not imagine one day there would be long lines of hundreds of people needing food because they had recently lost their jobs due to a pandemic.
“I did not see that coming, Good Neighbor has been here feeding the community but I did not see it to the point it is today. We see hundreds of people lined up for our pantry bags, our meals, but the great thing is that this is a big test for myself and not just for myself but for the organization,” he said. “Individuals can see that we are actually out there helping our community out.”
Zurita, originally from Los Fresnos, came back to his community after spending years in Washington, D.C. pursuing a career as an attorney. There, he fell in love with non-profits after being part of the Latin American Youth Center and decided to come back to give back to his own people. Upon returning, he spent time at Youth Build and as the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of San Benito.
He said he always has had an interest in helping the homeless population and when he saw the opening at Good Neighbor he knew he had to go for it. Since the soup kitchen is the heart of the organization, Zurita said he hopes to work toward creating a sustainable food program that will help the community in Brownsville.
“I applied to the Good Neighbor Settlement House because I thought Good Neighbor needed somebody new and somebody fresh to take the center to the next level,” he said. “I’ve always been passionate when it comes to the homeless population, especially here in Brownsville, I believe everyone deserves an opportunity, everyone needs a helping hand and someone to hear them out and believe them.”
Zurita said even though now there is more need for people to help each other, it has always been important to help your neighbor because you don’t know what they’re going through in their lives.
“I am a big believer that you should always want to be a good neighbor to every individual who comes and seeks assistance,” he said. “Just giving them that one helping hand is probably what they need to be able to succeed in life.”