The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) is a community-based, grassroots, nonprofit organization incorporated in August 2004, classified as a public charity exempt from federal income tax under IRS section 501(c)(3), and registered with the New Jersey Directory of Charities (#CH2720800).
It grew out of a Princeton community-based coalition known as the Latin American Task Force which had been helping the Princeton Latino community in various ways for well over a decade. However, the Task Force had never raised any money nor been incorporated.
In 2004, after seeing the growing marginalization and stresses on the local Latino community, a group of concerned Mercer County area residents joined together to take a proactive approach to address these concerns and formed the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LALDEF). Initially an all-volunteer Princeton-based, largely advocacy effort working out of borrowed space in a church basement, LALDEF has grown into a dynamic, staffed organization, providing services and case management while staying true to its advocacy mission, with the Welcome House in Trenton as its center of operations. Members of LALDEF’s Board are a diverse cross-section of our community, representing a variety of socioeconomic, professional, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
During a decade of dedicated work, LALDEF has gained valuable insight into the realities of daily life for the immigrant population in our region. In addition to our own program offerings, LALDEF has been a major driver behind community-wide collaborations. In 2008, LALDEF spearheaded the creation of Tremendously Trenton, an informal coalition of the various Latin American immigrant civic and business associations, and a number of faith-based organizations with large Latino congregations. Tremendously Trenton engaged in community building working closely with the Trenton Police Department, the Trenton Schools, health care providers and other local institutions. It soon became apparent that finding a permanent physical home to serve as a resource center for the immigrant population of Trenton, and their children, was the logical progression. In early 2013, Welcome House, our Trenton community center was opened to serve this purpose.
The concept of a community center to welcome and facilitate immigrant incorporation is not unprecedented in Trenton’s history. The International Institute of Trenton opened its doors in 1911 for “the welcoming of new arrivals, teaching them whatsoever they need in the new environment, providing necessary recreation, securing work, assisting in family problems and so far as possible thus bridging the chasm between the old and new life.” (A History of Trenton, 1679-1929, The Trenton Historical Society). Since its opening in January 2013, the growing demand for services at Welcome House has served as testimony to the fact that LALDEF understands this population’s needs and is addressing them. During our regular office hours there is a continual flow of clients coming to request support or information from one or another of LALDEF’s services.