Hispanic community urges more services Advocates tell governor's panel of need for community center in Annapolis

September 23, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Members of Anne Arundel County's Hispanic community told a governor's advisory panel last night of the need for expanded services to the Spanish-speaking community.

The most-repeated requests during last night's town meeting at the Board of Education headquarters were for a Hispanic community center in Annapolis, which has a growing immigrant population, and for County Executive Robert R. Neall to appoint a Hispanic affairs committee.

The Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs, a seven-member body that advises William Donald Schaefer on issues facing the Hispanic community, held the meeting to hear issues and concerns and suggest possible solutions, said Jose Ruiz, the commission's executive director.

Two commission staff members met individually with people who had specific problems, which they will address in the days following the meeting.

Jose Obregon, a construction worker who acts as a volunteer advocate for the Hispanic community, provided what he called "constructive criticism" of how the county government relates to Hispanics. The community, he said, has grown to a point in the county where "we demand that the county executive form a committee of Hispanic affairs."

Adrian D. Wiseman, Mr. Neall's human relations officer, who said he tries to act as a one-man liaison between the Hispanic community and the county government, allowed that the idea was worth exploring.

Mr. Obregon was also critical of social services, saying that many Hispanics who earn low wages apply for assistance but are turned down. He mentioned one particular case of a man who had a job, but the pay was low and he had a large family.

"The office of social services never explained why it couldn't help him," Mr. Obregon said. "They never explained what is the minimum you can earn to get assistance."

Marilyn Kenney, administrative specialist for the county's Department of Social Services, explained that her agency has tried to respond to complaints that caseworkers can't communicate with Spanish-speaking clients.

Almost a year ago, bilingual staff members were hired specifically to address this problem.

"When they go to apply for assistance, we have Spanish-speaking staff available," she said. "We have Spanish-speaking receptionists in Glen Burnie and Annapolis."

Amparo Harquail, a resident of Annapolis, asked that a %o community center for women be established that would teach English and crafts, such as sewing. "When you aren't employed and have nothing to do, you start thinking negative things," she told the commission.

Pamela Ellinghausen and Nancy Walker, both Annapolis residents who attended the meeting, may have the answer to Ms. Harquail's plea. At a similar town meeting last year, Ms. Ellinghausen presented plans for America House, a Hispanic community center in Annapolis that would offer such services.

No progress has been made since that presentation, but she told the commission that perhaps the community center's time had come.

"I have the plan and we have the manpower, the people power, to get this off the ground," she said. "I believe in the things that people can do together. I'll try it one more time, and we'll see if we can't get it together for the good of everyone in Annapolis, especially the Hispanics."

Juan Rivas thanked commission member Roberto Morales, who is a lawyer, for his assistance in overcoming legal hurdles he faced in opening America Latin Grocery earlier this year. Mr. Morales' assistance, Mr. Rivas said, was an example of how the members of the Hispanic community can and should help one another.

Mr. Morales said there are many others, like himself, who are willing to lend a hand. "The message is, with the help of all the people we have in this county, we can overcome any obstacles," Mr. Morales said. "There are people in the community to help you."

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