Latinos get help by saying OHLA

Local nonprofit expanding services

April 08, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

The three-fold brochure reads, "OHLA Inc. ... honoring the promise." And in case anyone has forgotten that promise, there is a picture of the Statue of Liberty, her eyes focused, with the words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

It is not only how the Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County (OHLA) promotes its services, but also how its founders see the mission of the Annapolis-based nonprofit group aimed at helping newly arrived Hispanics gain access to social services and integrate into American life.

In keeping with that mission, the 3-year-old organization will sponsor its first countywide Hispanic Town Meeting tonight in Truxton Park.

Organizers said the goal of the meeting is to provide a forum for the county's burgeoning Hispanic community and to give an overview of available services, such as help with immigration paperwork and employment opportunities. OHLA has held similar meetings in the past but for members only.

"We want [Hispanics] to know that they are not abandoned, that they have a place to make contact, that they are not totally isolated," said OHLA's president, Rick Ferrell, 66, who is a Cuban-American. "The Hispanic growth rate is incredible, and [OHLA] is making breakthroughs that benefit the whole community."

From 1960 to 1980, the county's Hispanic population more than doubled, from 2,273 to 4,595. In the past decade, it has grown 89 percent, to 12,902 from 6,815, according to the latest U.S. census data.

But Hispanic community leaders say the growth figures are understated, and they estimate that 25,000 to 30,000 Hispanics live in the county. The county has 489,656 residents.

Organizers expect about 200 Hispanics to turn out for the meeting. Ferrell, who works as a district court interpreter in Anne Arundel, Queen Anne's and Talbot counties, said he hopes many more attend.

During the past week, volunteers have distributed about 500 bilingual fliers with the message: "Come to the Hispanic Town Meeting, learn about the latest opportunities and let's hear what you have to say about life in our community."

At the top of tonight's agenda, Ferrell said, is the announcement that OHLA has found a permanent home - an office in downtown Annapolis. For years, the organization has operated 18 hours a week from a trailer at the Allen Apartments in Parole.

Now, with a fixed location, the organization plans to help immigrants 48 hours a week and expand its reach beyond Annapolis.

The meeting will also include a discussion on Temporary Protec- tion Status for Salvadorans. President Bush, responding to two earthquakes within a month in El Salvador that killed more than 1,000 people and caused devastating damage, pledged Temporary Protection Status in March for about 150,000 Salvadorans who are in the United States illegally.

The measure allows undocumented Salvadorans who have been in this country since before Feb. 13, when the second quake struck, to remain and work legally for 18 months. On Saturday, OHLA will help those who qualify apply for the status at the Salvation Army at 351 Hilltop Lane.

For Mexicans, OHLA has scheduled representatives from the Mexican consulate to visit the county July 7 to help immigrants with documents such as passports and birth certificates.

"It helps them keep ties with their homeland but also brings down their frustration level when they can't drive to D.C.," Ferrell said.

Other agenda items include information about a job training partnership to recruit bus drivers, scholarship opportunities at Chesapeake Academy in Severna Park, county health programs and OHLA's first Fiesta Annapo-Latina, a festival scheduled for May 6 in Annapolis.

Organizers said microphones will be set up throughout the meeting room tonight for participants to express their concerns, frustrations and needs.

"There's a need for two-way communication," Ferrell said. "There's a lot going on."

The Hispanic Town Meeting will take place from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Truxton Park, 273 Hilltop Lane, inside the Griscom Building in Annapolis. For information about OHLA, call 410-266-8776.

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