Coyotes’ courtship of Hispanic community continues with celebration of Cesar Chavez Day

Arizona Coyotes front office staff recently helped out at ACCEL school for Cesar Chavez Day by building and doing other activities, including painting and sanding. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – After becoming the first team in the NHL to name a Latino CEO and president, Xavier Gutierrez, the Arizona Coyotes have taken steps to integrate further into Arizona’s Hispanic community.

The team’s most recent development was honoring Cesar Chavez, the late farm labor leader, Wednesday.

Two days ahead of Cesar Chavez Day, annually celebrated on March 31, roughly 90 Coyotes front office staff members participated in a day of volunteering and service at four different sites in Tempe.

“It’s important for us to remember leaders like that and to support their mission and their legacy,” said Nadia Rivera, chief impact officer for the Arizona Coyotes. “That’s what the Coyotes are all about. We’re about social investment and giving back to our community on and off the ice.”

Chavez was born in Yuma and is known for his leadership among labor workers as well as his civil rights activism. He is most notable for paving the way for better wages and working conditions for farm workers.

“He’s an icon,” said Monica Villalobos, the president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber. “He shows that somebody can come from very humble beginnings and make a huge difference and be an icon and leave a legacy of service.”

In an effort to honor Chavez, Rivera and other Coyotes employees worked across different sites by gardening, building and packing food for people without homes. Some of the places they visited include Tempe’s Escalante Community Center, where volunteers potted edible cacti, and ACCEL, a school for children with developmental disabilities.

“This means the world to us,” said Jonathan Evans, ACCEL’s executive director of education programs. “We can count on the (Arizona) Coyotes Foundation, and it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to rely on local teams.”

Paula Harty, who helps run the garden at Escalante Park, agreed.

Coyotes employees participated in volunteer work at Escalante Park, where they potted cacti and tended to the plants and trees. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

Coyotes employees participated in volunteer work at Escalante Park, where they potted cacti and tended to the plants and trees. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

“We could not do it without volunteers,” she said. “To have a group like this come through and help us, increases what we can provide to the community.”

Since 2022, when Rivera was hired, she has made it a priority to establish strong partnerships across Arizona by using the power of sport to help unify Arizona’s communities.

Wednesday was just one example of the Coyotes showing their commitment to the state, Villalobos said, stressing this is nothing new for the team.

“On several levels, it’s been really important for the entire community,” Villalobos said. “For the president and CEO of the association to understand the impact and the purchasing power of Latinos in the state of Arizona has been really important.”

The relationship has a business side, too. Hispanic buying power in Arizona surpassed $57 billion in 2022, according to the 26th annual DATOS report, “The State of Arizona’s Hispanic Market,” released by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 32.3% of Arizona’s population was Hispanic or Latino as of July 2022.

The relationship has led to more Hispanic hockey fans, Villalobos said. In the past several months, the Coyotes have had players spend time with youth in that community, another way the partnership with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce can help the sport of hockey grow.

“It’s important to recognize that they’re making our community better in a very inclusive and diverse way,” Villalobos said. “It means that they’re committed to the communities that they work in and want to honor all the people that they serve.”

Commitment is something Rivera plans to continue long into the future because she believes it defines the Coyotes’ priorities.

“We have a very robust partnership base, and we are excited about growing those relationships for sure,” she said. “That’s what we’re about. It’s about giving back because it’s the right thing to do.”

Haley Smilow HAIL-ee SMI-low (she/her/hers)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Haley Smilow expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Smilow, who is currently covering sports in Phoenix, is also interning with the Diamondbacks and has previously interned at the Phoenix Magazine, AZTV and Phoenix Rising.