Dozens of people gathered despite the threat of rain to witness the grand re-opening of the Latino social service agency El Centro at its new home, on the corner of Pearl Avenue and 28th Street, Lorain, Dec. 14, 2011.
“We are so proud. Here we stand as a community. Here is your building. This is a gift to you,” said El Centro’s Executive Director Victor Leandry before cutting a thick red ribbon that had been tied to the entrance of the building, at 2800 Pearl Avenue. The audience responded with applause and cheers.
The guests approved what they saw. As they made their way through the building for the agency’s open house, guests could be heard repeating “This is nice,” and “Qué bonito.”
Mary Munn, from Applewood, a children’s mental health agency, said the new El Centro has a “pleasant” feel. “The colors are very soothing and the natural light is wonderful,” Munn said of the offices’ large windows and space, “They did a really good job. It’s a pleasant place to work.”
El Centro’s new home includes: police substation, community room and partnership offices
El Centro’s first floor greets guests with a commodious reception area adorned by a Christmas tree and houses 13 spacious offices which include a community room and partnership offices – offices ready to be used by partner community organizations.
The 650 square foot, 50-person capacity community/training room will be rented and open after hours to community organizations and even for private use like for weekend birthday parties, said Dan Radocaj, the agency’s chief financial officer.
Standing in the community room, adorned with a big Christmas tree and green and blue chairs surrounding rectangular tables, Margie Carrión, a former employee of El Centro’s El Dorado Senior Center for 11 years, said she was pleased to learn the community room will allow the seniors program to now have a permanent place to meet. “I can’t believe it,” Margie Carrión said “It’s perfect for them.”
The second floor houses nine offices including rentable space, a conference room, a WIFI-available technology room to be soon filled with computers and cubicles, and a Lorain Police substation, said Greg Hickman, the agency’s development officer.
Police Chief Cel Rivera said the police substation will not be manned at all times, instead will be used as an additional office space so Lorain Police can lead interviews, have access to translation services during interviews, and fill out paperwork. El Centro’s staff however said they welcome the extra police presence.
Radocaj added part of the first and second floor has WIFI access but not the entire building.
El Centro will also partner with the Second Harvest Food Bank, and once a month, provide food for the community, Radocaj said.
Radocaj added the agency is considering offering new programs and services in the future including: an anger management program, AIDS testing services, and even possibly providing a shuttle service, but those plans are not definite yet. As the Lorain County Transit has scaled back its services, “Transportation is a big issue in our community,” Radocaj said.
Present at the open house also were LCCC President Roy A. Church, LCCC Dean Generosa López-Molina, Sacred Heart Chapel Fr. William Thaden, Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo, from the Coalition for Hispanic Issues and Progress Mike Ferrer and from the Lorain Arts Council Antonio Barrios.
El Centro: To house a LCCC extended campus?
LCCC President Roy Church, a board member of El Centro for 20 years, said I “deeply believe in its mission and role in our community.” When asked if the college plans to bring services or a LCCC branch campus to El Centro’s new site, Church said he has talked with the non-profit on possibly using the new facility to extend their partnership. But no word yet on if and how the college plans to use the agency’s new building. “The thinking is to give El Centro some time to settle in to the new space, and see how it is being utilized. Then, we may have a better sense of what could be productively scheduled for delivery at that site,” Church said.
El Centro’s new home: a work in progress for several years
With the help of a federal grant and donations, El Centro managed to raise nearly $1.3 million for the renovation of the former bank on Pearl Ave., and turn it into its new headquarters after outgrowing its former 31st street home.
But after falling short of its original $1.5 million capital campaign goal, the agency was forced to scale back on the design and renovate two-thirds of the 11,000 square foot building. The renovation cost the agency $1.2 million.
Leandry said he preferred to fundraise because he did not want to finance the building.
The remaining unused 2,000 square foot section on the second floor housed tables and chairs and served as a temporary cafeteria for the guests during the open house. There, guests were treated to a variety of food including: rice, pastelillos, appetizers, and sweets.
But that unfinished space will be used by the agency or a partner organization in the future, said Radocaj.
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 former and outgrown 1888 E. 31st Street home and its former youth center, for its new Pearl Avenue building, that is nearly three times larger with a bigger parking lot and is handicap-accessible.
El Centro received $584,400 in federal funds, secured by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, for the renovation of its new building. Brown and Sutton were not present at the open house, but a representative from Sutton’s office, Katey Breck, attended.
El Centro is a non-profit agency that was founded in 1974 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 includes 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.
Rey Carrión, from the city’s development dept., said he was excited to see El Centro finish the renovation of its new home.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Rey Carrión, “This building has been sitting here vacant for 18 years. Victor has been a great driving force behind this. I’m so proud,” he said.
See El Centro online: http://www.lorainelcentro.com/ Call the agency at (440) 277-8235.
La Prensa’s video coverage of El Centro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O3qNdyjyqw