Troubled Latinos in the Baltimore area have another safe haven.
Centro de la Comunidad -- Spanish for community center -- opened this year to aid the area's growing number of Latinos with housing, education, immigration, health and employment issues.
"Our purpose is to preserve the family life," said Libby Arcia, executive director of the nonprofit center in the 2700 block of Pulaski Highway.
"In Latin America, the family is the most important thing, and we don't want to see the family disintegrate simply because people move to a different place."
About 125,000 Latinos live in Maryland, according to the 1990 census, but Ms. Arcia says that that number is low.
The census count is inaccurate because many Latinos are afraid to speak with government agencies, she said, while estimating that the number of Latinos has increased in Baltimore since 1990.
"Many people come [to Baltimore] because the cost of living is less here," Ms. Arcia said. "Plus, we have a good climate, work is available and others come because they have family and friends that work here."
Beltran Navarro, chairman of the city's commission for Hispanic affairs, said that although other agencies help Latinos, Centro de la Comunidad is needed.
"This center is unique because it's not linked to any type of church, and AIDS and sex issues can be dealt with here," he said. "This is important because AIDS is a big problem with minorities, like blacks and Latinos."
"I think this center is good," said Alexander Melara, a Salvadoran native who has visited the center several times since February for assistance. "They really worry about you . . . and they're honest."
The center, which has two full-time employees and three volunteers, opened in January and has already conducted a job fair and an immunization recruitment day, in which 34 children were vaccinated.
"We're always looking for new ways to expand our recruitment," Sean Mann, general manager of Barrett Business Services Inc., said at a recent job fair. "At the heart of it all, we show a lot of people new opportunities. Skilled or unskilled, it's another chance for us to give them employment."
Enid Cerra, a native of Puerto Rico who has lived in Baltimore for seven years, learned of the center when she read a pamphlet listing locations for free mammograms.
She had been to the center twice and was happy to hear about the job fair.
"I just said I'm going to give it a try and hope I get a job," she said. "I'm really looking for a job to help other Hispanic people who wish to come to the United States. I really want to get a job as a translator."
Although the center focuses on helping Latinos, officials there say they have a broader mission.
"Our target group is the Latin American community, but we'll help anyone who walks in the door," said Vivian Kinney-Milian, case manager at the center.
"Whoever they are, no matter where they come from."