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El Centro could move to bigger home by autumn

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

LORAIN: After over 3 years of planning, the only Spanish and bilingual social service agency in Lorain County, El Centro, is well on its way to providing the public a bigger facility and better services.

More than three dozen people gathered at El Centro de Servicios Sociales’ new site, on the corner of 28th St. and Pearl Ave., for its groundbreaking ceremony, June 9, 2011. 

The agency plans to have its grand opening by the end of the year, and invites the public for its ribbon-cutting ceremony, November 2011.

Executive Director Victor Leandry buoyantly told the crowd in English and Spanish “This project was never a dream; most of the time dreams don't come true. This project is part of a vision. Today is a joyful occasion, especially for all of us that have been so instrumental in making this vision a reality.”

To symbolize their support and excitement, board members wore construction hard hats. And a bright yellow excavator truck did not just adorn the background; crews began to work immediately after the ceremony, even before all guests had left the area.

Among the crowd were Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera, Lorain City Council and Mexican Mutual Society President Joel Arredondo, Greg Holcomb, a representative from U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton’s office, and Tim Carrion, of the Community Foundation of Lorain County and its Hispanic Fund. Generosa López-Molina, dean of the division of Academic Foundations at Lorain County Community College, opened the ceremony with a prayer.

Rey Carrion
, from the Lorain Community Development Dept., said city officials are excited El Centro has been moving forward with its vision, even during the city’s and country’s tough financial times.  “We see a lot of plans that don't get taken off the shelves,” Carrion said “Victor and his board have been steadfastly moving forward; this is what we need. We need strong leadership, leaders that will stay committed to their plan. They have done a tremendous job,” he said. Carrion said El Centro could be a catalyst for other major South Lorain or Pearl Avenue projects.

El Centro de Servicios Sociales has raised close to $1.3 million of its $1.5 million capital campaign goal for the renovation of its new home, with renovation to cost the agency $1.2 million, said Greg Hickman, the agency’s development officer.

But Leandry reminded the audience “We’re far from our goal. It was never just about the building but about our mission and about providing the resources to help to better the community,” he said.

Though forced to scale back on the design after not meeting the original campaign goal, the agency has selected Schalmo Builders as its contractor, to renovate two-thirds of the building. The remaining section could be used by the agency or a partner organization in the future. Leandry said a few groups have already expressed interest in the unused portion of the building though he chose not to reveal their names yet.

“At this point we are blessed,” Leandry said “Looking back on it, I think it's the right move to leave one portion unused for now. We can move in and identify what we need and it will also allow us to look for other partners.”

El Centro entered a building exchange agreement with the city of Lorain in 2007, to renovate the former bank at 2800 Pearl Ave., and turn it into its new headquarters. In 2008, the agency exchanged its outgrown 1888 E. 31st Street building (where the agency is still currently operating) and its former youth center on 28th Street, for its new Pearl Avenue building, that will be three times larger with a bigger parking lot and be handicap-accessible. The new 11,000 square foot building will house a conference/community room, training room and several partnership offices on its two floors.

Schalmo Builders, based out of Holmes County, was selected the project's contractor May 17, from among 11 total bidders, Hickman said. He said they received no bids from Lorain County. Schalmo is still identifying subcontractors, with as many from Lorain County as possible, Hickman said.

“It was a competitive process, and they best met the criteria we were looking for,” Hickman said.

Schalmo Builders was the lowest bidder but Hickman said that was not their only criteria.

“They were most able to complete the project within the timeline,” Hickman said “they are also doing construction in the Lorain County Metropolitan Housing Authority currently. They are a very reputable company in Lorain County,” Hickman said.

El Centro Board President Angie Martínez said she would like the agency to use a building on 28th Street, directly behind their new Pearl Ave building, for a community center, but no plans have been formerly made.

El Centro 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 has said El Centro helps roughly 2,000 families a year, and among those families, 80 percent do not speak English.

The agency is selling commemorative bricks to help raise for the project, going for $100 and $300.

See La Prensa’s video of El Centro in a former issue online at, http://www.youtube.com/user/LaPrensaWeekly#p/u/35/9O3qNdyjyqw

Call the agency at (440) 277-8235. See online: http://www.lorainelcentro.com/  

We reserve the right to delete or edit any comments we find inappropriate.
Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/21/11 06:11:47 -0700.





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