Two-time IMLS award-winner Carmen Patlan is a true powerhouse. For the last 15 years Carmen has been working in the non-profit field engaging underserved Latino communities across Lake County, Illinois. Carmen began her nonprofit career in 2007 while working as the Social Concerns Director for Most Blessed Trinity Parish. She was responsible for the oversight of a Food Pantry, Soup Kitchen, and Immigrant Center and was instrumental in the development and opening of the House of Peace Domestic Violence Shelter. To this day, the House of Peace provides culturally sensitive shelter and counseling support to Latina women and their children struggling with the impact of domestic violence.
In 2011 while working as the Community Engagement and Development Manager for the Waukegan Public Library, Carmen developed a community engagement best practices model called “Promotoras De La Biblioteca”. This model identified, trained, and equipped trusted community members who were then deployed to implement targeted community engagement. Under Carmen’s leadership, this strategy led to the development of essential programs, such as Conversational ESL, Spanish Literacy for Native Speakers, Temporary Visitor’s Driver’s License tutoring classes, Health Awareness, Basic Computer Skills, Citizenship, and GED preparation. In 2013 “Las Promotoras De La Biblioteca” received an IMLS (Institute of Museums and Library Services) National Gold Medal, awarded to the Waukegan Public Library by First Lady Michelle Obama. And in 2014, Carmen was awarded the Library Journal Movers and Shakers award for the Library Ambassadors Community Engagement Program.
From 2016 to 2018, Carmen served as Chief Development Officer for A Safe Place, Lake County’s largest provider of services solely focused on victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. At A Safe Place, she was responsible for fund development of the organization, securing the agency’s overall annual operating budget of $4.1M an increase from $2.1M at the start of her tenure. This increase in funding allowed for the implementation of the Safe Youth Safer Lake County providing intervention and prevention programming for at risk youth.
Carmen is currently the Executive Director of the Highwood Public Library and Community Center. Since her arrival in 2019, the Library has doubled the number of program offerings, increased visitors by 40%, and increased program attendance for children and adults by over 100%. In just her 3rd year, Carmen has successfully grown the library’s operating budget fivefold, and secured a total of $4.4M in support of the library’s first ever capital campaign. To better reflect the expansion in programs and community services now being offered, the library has now been renamed the Highwood Library & Community Center. In 2021, Carmen’s creative community engagement expertise and leadership helped secure the Highwood Library & Community Center’s first National Medal from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, making her the first and only Latina to win this recognition twice.
As a formerly undocumented individual, Carmen has a lived experience of the struggles which our immigrant community face daily. Carmen shares that the struggles of the most vulnerable members of our community drive her to do more each day.