El Centro Hispano
By: Valerie Parker & Kimberly Eddleman
Founded in 1992, El Centro Hispano is an independent non-profit organization, one of the first organizations in Durham to satisfy the needs of the new Hispanic community. Originally called The Hispanic Resource Center, the organization only served 200 people in its beginnings, and functioned as simply a collection of services to help the community. (“El Centro Hispano,” 2011). The organization sought to help the Latino community integrate, both linguistically and culturally (“El Centro Hispano,” n.d.). In 2000, El Centro Hispano expanded to Carrboro with the creation of El Centro Latino. In just 22 years, El Centro became the largest grassroots Latino organization in North Carolina. (“El Centro Hispano,” 2011) From growth of new programs, expansion to new organizations and opening of new center, El Centro is truly a fundamental part of the history and identity of Latino culture in Durham.
El Centro Hispano focuses its programming in four key areas: Education, Support Services, Health, and Community Leadership. In addition to the continuous programming offered throughout the year, ECH also hosts several annual events outside of their offices including a zumbathon, and an education fair.
The education programming focuses on adult and youth education and family development. Both ESL classes, and Spanish classes are offered. The education programming does not just center on language. The center has literacy classes for Spanish-speaking adults who want to complete elementary or secondary schooling, a program known as Plaza Communitaria.
The Support Services programming is meant to act as an extensive resource for the community, guiding them through the often complex systems of public health, public education, employment and law. The support services section of ECH is also the department responsible for coordinating volunteers, as well as planning cultural promotion events celebrating Latin American heritage.
The Health section of El Centro Hispano’s programing focuses on healthcare access, prevention and promotion, as well as activities. ECH holds an annual health fair, which provides health screenings and educational sessions. Additionally, El Centro holds educational sessions about HIV and STDs, and hosts small support groups for Latino members of the LGBTQ community of Durham and Carrboro. Another resource through El Centro Hispano, LATCH, (Local Access to Coordinated Healthcare) serves to educate the Latino community of Durham about options for those without insurance.
The last focus area of ECH programming is Community Organizing. Through leadership development programs, and community development and action programs, El Centro Hispano shapes and trains Latino leaders, both adults and teens. Community action aims to encourage civic engagement and advocacy, helping people to be the change in their own communities.
The many facets of El Centro Hispano’s programming are made possible through funding from local and state governments, as well as partnerships with many different schools and businesses. ECH functions smoothly with the help of volunteers, as well as funding through mutually beneficial partnerships. El Centro is partnered with over fifty different businesses, majority local, including eight non-profit organizations. El Centro also has several well-known corporate sponsors, including State Farm, Wells Fargo, and Dr. Pepper.
Currently, ECH has over 700 members and provides services to over 10,000 people in the Durham, Carrboro, and Chapel Hill communities. El Centro Hispano has served as a meeting place, a support, an information hub and a community for the Latino community of Durham.