El Centro Hispano: A precious resource

By Clinton Centry
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Durham’s motto may be “the City of Medicine,” but many know it as a city of change. Its society has progressed tremendously since the days of segregation when the Ku Klux Klan gathered here and white and black were divided. Today’s culture includes black and white as well as Native Americans, Asians, and a fast growing Hispanic community. The influence of Hispanic culture in the city is undeniable and has tremendously progressed since the early ’90s.

El Centro Hispano, at 201 Main Street in Durham, is bustling with activity on a typical day. It is a non-profit organization working to better serve the Hispanic community through social services, such as legal, health, financial, educational, recreational, community and personal matters.

Jacqueline Hernandez organizing a workshop for El Centro Hispano. (Staff photo by Clinton Centry)

“All of the services we offer here at the center are free of charge,” says Jacqueline Hernandez, staff assistant. “We act as a referral service to direct the community to other sources for help.”

The first floor offices employ interpreters to assist non-English speaking citizens in making phone calls to handle business-related issues. For citizens wishing to master English as a second language, classes are offered to both adults and children. The courses are $20 for individuals and $30 for families.

Also, since a number of Hispanics are not fluent in English, Durham county lawyers are available monthly to meet with and advise citizens of legal options that they would otherwise be unaware of. The attorneys offer 15 to 20 minutes of free consultation on issues of housing, traffic, immigration, proper wage compensation, and domestic violence; whereas anywhere else, citizens would have to pay for such services.

A number of Hispanics may not have sufficient health coverage and to accommodate them, Centro Hispano offers a health program in STD, stroke, and breast cancer prevention. HIV testing is offered Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. These services are provided at no additional cost to the citizens.

The community program Linkages, was set in place to familiarize Hispanic parents with community happenings such as the school system and PTA. The Centro Hispano offers youth programs for college preparation and admission, as well as sources for applying for grants, and strategies to keep kids out of gangs.

For the Hispanic entrepreneur, the Centro Hispano offers workshops explaining how to start a business.

“We tell the person how to apply for a license, and refer them to a financial institution for financing,” states Hernandez. “If an individual is interested in beginning a business, they must first detail what the business will be, then apply for a license at City Hall. Once the license is granted, the individual will be referred to a financial institution for financing.” More than likely this institution will be LCCU, Latino Community Credit Union, also downtown, where she says Centro Hispano refers most of its patrons.

This is exactly what happened in the case of 38-year-old, Eleazer Flores, owner of Carniceria La Superior, a Hispanic grocery store located on Roxboro Road.

“I came to California twenty years ago from Mexico, and worked for Disneyland, and grocery store chains there before coming to North Carolina twelve years ago,” he says. “A friend introduced me to the Centro Hispano, and from there I was referred to LCCU where I received a loan for one million dollars for the property.”

He received another loan from Mechanics & Farmers Bank for the financing of another property which he now owns. Carniceria La Superior employs all Hispanic workers, while playing Hispanic themed tunes over the sound system. It contains a fish and meat market, bakery, deli, and full-size dining area.

El Centro Hispano is considered a treasure within the Durham Hispanic community. In as much as it serves the people, the staff asserts that it is the people which keep it thriving. It is their resource center.