At least 150 members of Carroll County's burgeoning Hispanic community gather weekly for Spanish Mass at St. John Roman Catholic Church in Westminster. Programs on everything from health issues to resume writing to traditional music and dance are offered on the third Sunday of each month after the afternoon Mass.
Hispanic parishioners will receive an additional benefit at Mass today: a bilingual community guide and business directory, listing Carroll's doctors, stores and agencies that can provide services in Spanish.
"For years, we've talked about doing this," said St. John member Denise Diegel, who has worked on the Spanish ministry for five years. "Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S., and since most of them are at least born Catholic, it stands to reason that they will be a lot of the future of the Catholic church in America."
As more Latino immigrants come to Carroll County, more nonprofits and businesses are trying to connect with Spanish translators to serve the growing community's needs. The growth rate of the Hispanic community now exceeds that of African-Americans in the predominantly white county.
So United Hands of Carroll County, a Hispanic immigrant advocacy group, and employees from Carteret Mortgage in Sykesville and Lederer & Co. Realtors in Westminster teamed up to create the community guide.
The directory will be distributed this afternoon at St. John during a home ownership seminar.
While many newer immigrants primarily obtain rental housing, special purchasing plans are available for people without an established credit history, said Carteret Mortgage's Debbie Schapiro, a Westminster resident who helped assemble the guide. People who lack proper immigration documents may be able to qualify for loans from certain banks, Schapiro said.
"We're trying to help the Hispanic community learn and understand how to get into homes if possible," Schapiro said. "There are so many different programs out there. A lot of them don't even realize that they can [buy a home] if they don't have a Social Security number yet. We want to get the word out to them that they can, but we're not really pushing that either."
Establishing good credit history is often the biggest hurdle for new immigrants who want to buy a home, Schapiro said, especially if one lacks proper credit cards, car loans and other items traced for a credit report.
In that case, records of paid apartment rentals and utility bills can be used to help people qualify for a loan, Schapiro said.
In today's presentation, she said she also would discuss community bank programs such as Neighborhood Advantage, which help low-income residents qualify for home purchases that require no down payments and little to no closing costs.
Elena Hartley, who grew up in Lima, Peru, said most people in her native country paid upfront when they purchased a home. So Hartley, the assistant director of United Hands, did not know how the process worked once she immigrated to the United States and wanted to purchase a home in Westminster in 1996.
"When I bought my second house, I didn't want to make the same mistakes," said Hartley, who is a customer service representative for Spanish-speaking clients at a local bank. "If you educate yourself before buying the house, at least you are prepared."
In the Washington suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, there are plenty of Spanish-speaking services for Hispanics. However, such resources are harder to find in Carroll County, Hartley said.
Carroll's Hispanic population also worries about being taken advantage of because of the language barrier, Hartley said.
"Since very few people here speak Spanish, they're worried someone is lying to them," Hartley said. "They're lost."
Hartley and English As a Second Language teacher Jenni Sharkey founded United Hands of Carroll County around 2002 to help recent Hispanic immigrants better navigate Carroll's education, social and financial systems. The new guide advances the organization's mission.
Schapiro and Hartley said they hope the Spanish community guide will be frequently updated as community services expand.
Spanish-speaking accountants, attorneys, mechanics and hair stylists are needed for the directory, Schapiro said. She said such listings also could help immigrants find jobs.
The county Health Department has a Spanish guide to local medical services, but Hartley said they tried to make the directory a more comprehensive newcomer's handbook.
"We're more specific," Hartley said. "Maybe eventually we'll have a little more information. But for starters, I think it's pretty good for the first one."
"The Process of Buying a Home" presentation is at 5 p.m. today in the St. John cafeteria, 43 Monroe St., Westminster. Information: Debbie Schapiro, 443-829-6089, or the church, 410-848-4744.