Fall 2020

Casa Community

When unprecedented hardship struck Pittsburgh's Latino population, Pitt alumna Monica Ruiz took action.
Photography courtesy of
Monica Ruiz

What are we going to do? thinks Monica Ruiz. 

It’s April 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic is causing hardships wherever she looks. As executive director of Casa San Jose, a small Pittsburgh-based nonprofit serving the region’s Latino population, Ruiz (SOC WK ’15, ’17G) is hit with the reality that thousands of people and their families—taxpaying people who were left out of the stimulus package and don’t qualify for unemployment—need her help with the most basic needs, such as food, rent and money for utility bills. 

And although providing this kind of assistance has been a part of the organization’s mission since its founding, never before has the need been so great.

Her solution: Try to raise $100,000 to help as many families as she can.

To her surprise, she raises the funds pretty quickly. She keeps going. Again, the community surpasses expectations with donations to Casa San Jose, easily meeting Ruiz’s goal. Ultimately, by securing grants from the Heinz Endowments, Opportunity Fund and the Open Society, Posner, and Pittsburgh Foundations, Ruiz raises more than $1 million.

With the money, Ruiz and the team have helped about 700 families. Every Saturday for the past few months, families have come to the Casa San Jose center, where they receive information about local doctors and pediatricians, face masks, three boxes of food, and funds to pay for necessities.

The nonprofit has served more than 3,000 people in some capacity this year alone, Ruiz says. But the most memorable aspect of this work is seeing people come together to step up and help, even “the people who had not even a dollar in their pocket,” she says. “I’m so grateful for the role Casa was able to play.”


Cover image: Monica Ruiz, right, with a client

This article will appear in the Fall 2020 edition of Pitt Magazine.