11/21/04 — New Hispanic community center already a busy place

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New Hispanic community center already a busy place

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 21, 2004 2:04 AM

In just a few months, organizers of an agency to help Hispanics in Wayne County say they are seeing results.

The Hispanic Community Devel-opment Center is teaching Mexican parents to speak English, forging ties with South American countries, and trying various ways to make the transition easier for new immigrants.

The center opened in September on Arrington Bridge Road at Dudley with an array of free services being developed for its patrons.

Gaspar Gonzalez says he is always looking for ways to improve relations between Hispanics and the community they now call home.

Willie Cartagena, executive director of the center, works closely with Gonzalez. "We try to respond to all the needs that we can," he said. "We're a small organization in the growing process. We try to help as much as we can."

Gonzalez said that in the past, larger areas such as Wake and Orange counties have been able to make inroads toward providing support and services for the burgeoning Hispanic population. He said he has been pleased to see Wayne County responding.

"This county, the commissioners and others are really helping us," he said. "We can all work together for the same goal."

What began as a means to provide information and support services has expanded to include a variety of events. One of the biggest will be the Christmas celebration, "Three Kings Day," at Waynesborough Park on Jan. 8. There are also plans to participate in the Martin Luther King Day celebration that month.

Getting the message out has been a slow process, Cartagena said, but one that continues to gain momentum. He said good relationships are developing not only with local and state officials, but also outside the United States.

"We have established good communication with the Guatemala Consul and the Mexican Consul," he said. "We're trying to bring them here in the spring for our first health and information fair."

Gonzalez said there is also a trip planned to Guajaca, a southern Mexico town from where many Hispanics in Wayne County migrated. He said he will accompany more than two dozen Mount Olive residents on the week-long journey, designed to create better relationships between people of the United States and Latin America.

"We'll visit some of the elected officials and ministers," he said. "We'll focus on health, education and how we can have a little better understanding of the people."

Locally, Gonzalez and Cartagena have been working to break down some of the language barriers, starting with parents. For 90 minutes three days a week, they teach English to parents of Brogden Primary School students and suggest ways to support the study habits of the children.

Gonzalez said he has received support from the Association of Retired Teachers, with a dozen former educators willing to serve as tutors at any elementary schools that need them.

He sees his role as providing community services. He credits such agencies as the Boys & Girls Club with backing efforts to involve more Hispanic children. Neuse Baptist Association has also provided referrals for such needs as immigration issues and domestic violence.

"Real-estate companies have been especially helpful," he said, which in turn will help Hispanics improve their living conditions.

Cartagena said the list goes on.

"We're hearing from lawyers, different schools to address PTAs, a lot of medical people," he said. The Health Department, Social Services, Smart Start, WAGES, WATCH, and The Lighthouse battered women's shelter have also been supportive, he said.

Gonzalez says he is pleased but not necessarily surprised.

"The people here have been more aware of the influence they have," Gonzalez said. "Not only for Hispanics, but Koreans. It's the idea that we realize that all these people need help."

"What we try to do is better the community regardless of race, political parties or ideologies," Cartagena said.