Helping area Hispanics Outreach: Centro de la Comunidad, which has assisted thousands of Hispanics in the Baltimore region, wants to link with other agencies.

June 26, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

After working for three years at a pastry shop in Baltimore, Sonia Quezada said she thought the business administration skills she learned in her native Guatemala were going to waste.

With help from Centro de la Comunidad, a Hispanic community center in Southeast Baltimore, Quezada, 35, not only found a job as a community health worker, but was able to fill out the paperwork she needed to become a U.S. citizen.

"The Centro is like my second house," she said. "It's like going to my country."

Quezada is one of thousands of Hispanic immigrants who have used the center to break cultural and language barriers to enter mainstream America. Under new leadership, the center will try to link with organizations outside its Patterson Park neighborhood and refer clients to agencies throughout the city.

Today from 11 a.m. to noon, the agency will launch its efforts with an Interdenominational Blessing at the center, at Pulaski Highway and Kenwood Avenue.

Haydee M. Rodriguez, the center's director since June 1, said getting other agencies involved will help stretch a staff of four full-time workers and one volunteer to serve Baltimore's expanding Hispanic community.

That community has grown from 7,602 in 1990 to 45,972 in 1997, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Clergy from Hispanic communities will join Jewish, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Baptist and other congregations for the blessing, Rodriguez said.

Last year, the center helped 3,920 clients with translation services, citizenship workshops, job placement, housing problems, and medical referrals.

Since it opened in 1995, the center has been in a cramped, converted storage building.

In May 1997, the center offered a corner of its space to La Familia Health Center, a bilingual health clinic operated by Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

This year, the center has a budget of about $135,000 from government and private grants, corporate and individual donations, and fund-raisers, such as a golf tournament scheduled for October.

Rodriguez, who worked for six years as the mayor's Hispanic liaison, said the center has a partnership with the Hispanic Apostolate, which offers English- as-a-second-language classes and works with the center to avoid duplicating services.

Sister Mary Neil, director of the Hispanic Apostolate, said her 35-year-old organization has outgrown its space because of growth of the Hispanic population.

"I don't see [the center] as competition," Neil said. "We can hardly keep up with the demand of services in our center."

The typical client at the community center arrived up to two years earlier, doesn't speak English, is unemployed, comes from a low socioeconomic background and has an eighth-grade education or less.

Blanca Picazo, employment coordinator and caseworker, said each new case is a challenge.

"We have so many cases, [but sometimes] you really see that you make a difference," she said. "I realize that, every day, we make a difference."

Pub Date: 6/26/98

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