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El Centro hosts its 35th Gala

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

LORAIN, Nov. 7, 2009: El Centro celebrated its 35th anniversary serving the Latino community with its annual gala last Saturday, where many learned of the agency's ambitious plans for a  $1.5 million new home.

“We have outgrown the (current) facility,” Executive Director of El Centro Victor Leandry said; “I want something that is appropriate and meets the needs of our community. We’re ready to construct as long as we raise 60 percent of what we need.

Betsy Torres, Lorain City Schools Elementary teacher; William Torres, maintenance worker at Lorain County Community College; and Gloria Olivencia, from the Gathering Hope House.

“We’re not going to give up. We’re going to get there,” he said.

Roughly 500 guests dressed in elegant gala-fitted ensembles were treated to a Latino three-course meal, and danced to the rthymns of the Sabor Latino band. There was also a silent auction.

Leandry praised the efforts of his staff and the community for the successes of the social service agency despite the recent ailing economy.

“When I think about the last year, I don’t want to talk about the poor economy,” Leandry said “I want to talk about how we dealt with it and how we continued providing all of the services for all those in need,” he said.

El Centro de Servicios Sociales is a non-profit agency that was founded with the goal of helping the often impoverished and non-English-speaking Latinos.

The agency assists the Latino and non-Latino communities with a youth program which includes: tutoring, adult support services which include translation, money management services for individuals with mental or physical illness, an employment program, a family violence prevention program, and support services for seniors under its El Dorado Senior Center.

Leandry said El Centro helped roughly 2,000 families last year, and among those families, 80 percent do not speak English.

“Many people ask us that all the time. If we still need translation services,” Leandry said “We’re getting new people that are moving here that do not speak English. Some of the seniors have been here for generations and they may talk some English but they don’t feel comfortable going to a doctor’s appointment. Our staff goes with them and translate for them. There is still a need. There is always a need,” he said.

Many guests said they came to support the advocacy agency because they believe in its mission and that it still continues to help many families in need.

William Torres, a maintenance employee at Lorain County Community College, said he would support El Centro “anyway that I can.” Torres, who has worked with another social service agency in Youngstown where he led AIDS prevention workshops, said he believes in the need for such agencies.

“I have seen the help that (El Centro) gives to the Hispanic community, with giving them food, clothing, helping them with their bills, translations and after-school tutoring,” he said, “They are very important. If it wasn’t for El Centro, a lot of the lower income families would not have anything.”


The $1.5 million Pearl Avenue Building Renovation Project

El Centro entered a building exchange agreement with the city of Lorain last year, where the plan is to move the agency from its current 31st street location to a bigger facility that will triple its size on the corner of 28th and Pearl Avenue. But additional funding is still needed for the renovation.

El Centro has raised $402,000, Leandry said. Plus, they expect to receive roughly $600,000 in federal funds after U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has pushed for roughly a $2.6 million bill to support special projects in Ohio. Although the bill has not yet been signed, Leandry said he is optimistic his agency will be receiving the federal funds after recently getting a call from the Sen. Brown’s office. Leandry said he is unaware exactly how much his agency will ultimately receive, and he will know by December.

“We know we’re getting an amount (in federal money) to start this project,” Leandry said. “Yes, we’re moving. It’s going to take a while. We’re crossing our fingers the (federal) bill will be signed. But we need our community to support our goal.

“There is a project in your backyard that you can support. We ask that this Christmas when you’re considering what to support that you will consider us,” he said, as the crowd broke out in applause and cheers. 

When I received the call about the federal funding “I started crying like a baby,” Leandry said. “I kept thinking about my community. We need to see a project of this magnitude start and finish.”

The new building will be completely handicap-accessible as elevators will be available, will be more confidential as more office spaces will be available to the staff, and will have a larger parking lot.

The new facility will also have a 50-person capacity conference room and two or three offices for other local non-profits and agencies to meet on a rotating basis.

Owners of the 89.1FM "La Onda Cultural Latina," the only Spanish-speaking radio station in the local Lorain County area. From left: Milton Velazquez and Elba Velazquez.

“There is a lack of space for meetings and gatherings in Lorain,” Leandry said.

The supporters of El Centro that filled the Deluca’s Place in the Park came from all backgrounds ranging from political, educational, and business leaders.

Present were Executive Director of Adelante, Inc (based in Toledo) Sonia Troche, Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo, State Rep. Matt Lundy (D-Elyria), State Sen. Sue Morano (D-Lorain), Lorain City Council President Joel Arredondo, Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs Chairwoman Mary Santiago, Puerto Rican Cultural Committee Chairman Antonio Barrios, Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera, Lorain Law Director Patrick Riley, Lorain County Community College President Dr. Roy Church, representatives of U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH), and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) office y más.


El Centro’s former community resource center

El Centro had a community resource center in addition to their main office back in the 2007-2008 fiscal year within the former Lincoln Elementary School on 31st Street. The center was created as a way to contain the increasing violence within the city especially among the youth “as seen today,” Leandry said.

The center there offered spaces for local agencies to meet, basketball courts and art classes for the young, and a food pantry. But the local school district took back the building in 2008.

Sara Lee is one volunteer of that community resource center – a mother who turned her loss into an opportunity to help others.

Lee said her daughter Samarrie Soler, 15, was killed while watching TV in 2005 by a bullet shot into their home. The bullet was shot by a 19-year-old gunman who was retaliating against another man but fired at the wrong house, according to police records and Lee.

 Lee decided to give back to the community that supported her by helping Lorain’s youth.

“I got to meet and help so many troubled kids,” Lee said “It was such a positive place. A couple of kids from the community painted murals and painted my daughter on it.”

President of the Community Health Partners Foundation Michael Parry said he was not informed of El Centro’s renovation project, but would support such a cause, he said.

“Given the demographics and the high percentage of Hispanics here, I need to know what’s going on and that’s why I’m here,” Parry said.

“I was not aware of their capital campaign. El Centro is making a big difference in the city and I wish them the best. I would feel good about supporting this cause, even supporting it personally,” he said.


Editor’s Note: If you need assistance or wish to donate to iEl Centro’s campaign, contact El Centro at 1888 E. 31st Street, Lorain, call (440) 277-8235, or visit them online at http://www.lorainelcentro.com/


Members of the Puerto Rican Home Maria Cortez-Gonzalez, its president Juan Silva and his wife Nidia Silva.

The Sabor Latino Band play Salsa.



Executive Director of El Centro Victor Leandry dances with his daughter Ariana Leandry, 8.


Mary Santiago , Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs chairwoman, and Elizabeth Soto, treasurer of the Coalition for Hispanic Issues and Progress .








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