It was a quiet and chilly Thursday morning, but the lobby of El Centro Hispano was filled with the sounds of a new workday – phones ringing and conversations taking place. A man and a woman waited to be assisted by the receptionist.
The woman, Concepcion Morales, 55, presented the Case Manager, Macarena Sanchez, working the front office with a dilemma – a relative of hers was not being paid the full wages he had been promised by his employer.
Sanchez immediately gave her the contact of a lawyer who handles situations such as her relatives’.
“For us, it’s good,” Morales said. “Any doubts we have, when we are upset or if we need any information, El Centro can help. When we ask, they say to us, ‘what can we do?’ This organization is a great support to the community.”
El Centro Hispano recently celebrated its 25th birthday. The celebration was held in Durham Central Park. There was cake, food and a DJ. The event was open to the community members and elected officials as well.
“It was kind of a ‘we made it’ celebration,” said Community Engagement and Advocacy Director Eliazar Posada. “The whole point was to make it more of a community atmosphere. Kids were playing around and people were dancing – even our elected officials joined in.”
Posada, 25, has been working at El Centro Hispano for the past two years. Along with managing many of the organization’s advocacy and support groups, he also handles all media relations.
“Given the current administration and the legislative body in the state, we must maintain a unified message,” Posada said.
“The way that we’re moving forward is moving into more advocacy,” Posada added. “We have a strong service base, but we are finding one of the best ways to serve the community is not only to, when they come in for classes, teach them, or when they come in for legal help, help them, but also empower individuals in their day-to-day to be advocates for themselves.”
What that advocacy looks like is growing El Centro Hispano’s programs. The organization recently underwent a restructuring, where Eliazar’s position was created, and a larger emphasis was put on advocacy.
“We are always looking for volunteers for our programs,” Posada said. “Not many people know this, but El Centro has the longest running LGBTQ+ support groups specifically for the Latinx population.”
On November 4, these support groups will be turning 16.
“It all started because a group of people couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving,” said Posada. “One of the board members at the time told the group they were welcome to come to El Centro and relax and eat. So it began with that first Thanksgiving where they could come to a safe environment and talk, relax and debrief.”
Now, what began as a Thanksgiving dinner for LGBTQ Latinx individuals who didn’t have family to go home to evolved into the four LGBTQ Latinx specific groups El Centro has today.
El Centro is the only non-profit in the south, from North Carolina to Texas, that has Latinx-specific support groups. And the future for these groups seems bright.
Back in the lobby, more people were coming in to be assisted. With a smile on her face, in between answering phones, Sanchez connected the individuals with the best information possible.
“My favorite part of the job is when I can help somebody, because I do help a lot of people,” Sanchez said. “When someone comes in with a problem and I can find a solution, that makes it all worthwhile.”