Centeno will be leading a paid staff of four that works for the benefit of the chamber’s 1,800 business members.
The Hispanic chamber merged with the Sparks chamber in the summer of 2008, an initiative that Centeno led from the side of the Hispanic chamber.
“The Sparks chamber has in place a great structure,” she said. “That is one main reason why we merged with them.”
The merger brought in more than 370 paying members to Sparks and added a level of diversity to the way business is conducted at the chamber.
“We have approved merging our chamber with the Hispanic chamber to create a powerful business and networking resource that more completely mirrors northern Nevada’s diversity,” Sparks chamber executive director Len Stevens said in a letter to chamber members at the time of the merger.
With that merger came new challenges and opportunities, which Centeno says she is eager to tackle.
The one feature of the Sparks chamber that Centeno believes brings great value to members is the array of workshops and networking opportunities.
“My vision is to make that structure (the current structure of the Sparks chamber) available to everyone,” Centeno said. “I believe in one community. We have a tendency to segregate.”
For example, the Sparks chamber provides business advisement services in English but such a service is not available for Spanish speakers.
Although providing a greater range of services to all members is on Centeno’s priority list, she also is proud of the strides the Sparks chamber has made in integrating the Hispanic business community to create a more diverse and reflective membership.
“We have received calls and e-mails asking how we have done it,” Centeno said of the merger.
According to both Centeno and Stevens, other chambers who have tried to merge with the local Hispanic chambers have not had much success.
“We haven’t heard that this happens successfully in any other states,” Centeno said.
Centeno didn’t pinpoint reasons why the merger had been successful, but rather pointed to a 90 percent membership renewal rate since the merger.
“We have been very blessed,” Centeno said.
As the president of the organization, Centeno is not paid. Also, she was nominated to the position and did not seek the job.
“It is nice to know that I am the first Latina in this position and I am very proud to be here,” she said.
Centeno’s full-time job is as a branch manager for the US Bank at Vassar Street and Wells Avenue.
The Mexico native earned her bachelor’s degree in Mexico and enjoyed a successful career in banking there. Centeno said she originally came to the United States eight years ago to learn English as a second language and improve her speaking skills. In the meantime, she earned a Masters in Business Administration and met her husband in 2007. When they married a year later, she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
While here she has volunteered with several organizations such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Latin Chamber of Commerce (merged with the Hispanic chamber in 2006), Nevada Hispanic Services, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the National Hispanic Professional Organization (NHPO), the Health Access Washoe County (HAWC) clinic and Sparks Chamber of Commerce.
“I worked very hard on my education and career,” Centeno said in a written biography. “My involvement with the community does not have any hidden agenda. You get what you see. I still get nervous when speaking publicly, but I still cry when I see someone crying. I believe in one community, I believe in giving back to the community and I believe that education is the key to success.”