By Zach Freshwater
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Jose Torres says he needs volunteers.
The University of Texas at Austin graduate works for the Carrboro branch of El Centro Hispano, an organization that began serving the Latino populations of Orange and Durham counties in 1992.
In Carrboro, El Centro Hispano offers resources ranging from financial planning courses and legal advice to after school tutoring programs for students whose parents do not speak English fluently. The Carrboro Office is located at 104 Highway 54 Unit FFF in the Carrboro Plaza Shopping Center.
Since the Carrboro office opened two years ago, Torres has worked as the community specialist and tutoring program coordinator.
“I’ve had very good experiences from committed volunteers from East Chapel Hill High and people in the community and at UNC,” Torres said. “But we are always looking for more.”
In the past, a group from the UNC-Chapel Hill Campus Y sent weekly volunteers to El Centro Hispano, but that group stopped sending volunteers this year due to scheduling conflicts.
Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, president and CEO of El Centro Hispano, said the organization serves about 2,500 community members in Carrboro annually.
She said a group of about 40 people volunteer regularly, most of which are students from UNC-CH and area high schools.
Torres works closely with the tutoring program, which he said is one of El Centro Hispano’s most popular programs.
“I think it’s very helpful for the families,” Torres said. “The homework gets a little complicated, especially since it’s in a different language for the parents.”
Education is a major concern for the Latino community in Carrboro, Torres said.
“Yeah, the school districts may be better here, but that may not include young Latinos,” Torres said.
The Carrboro branch also offers adult education training programs for community members who speak English as a second language.
Gabriel Sanchez, a regular volunteer at El Centro Hispano, said the programs provide many people with education opportunities for the first time.
“Many of these people wanted to go to school, but their countries were ravaged by war,” Sanchez said. “Now they have the chance.”
Sanchez, a civil engineering contractor for UNC-CH, volunteers with a computer literacy program that aims to teach community members basic computer skills.
“The classes are for people that have children at school that are doing homework that require the use of computer” he said. “The parents don’t know how to turn on the computer or browse the Internet, but the homework is on the school webpage.”
Sanchez, who teaches the computer classes by himself, echoed Torres’ call for volunteers.
“We would love to have more students come help,” he said.
The organization relies primarily on community organizing efforts to advertise their resources, Torres said.
“As of now in Carrboro, it’s just been word of mouth,” Torres said. “We do also advertise in the Spanish language newspapers.”
Torres said he found out about the organization by chance.
“I was just walking by one day and saw the sign,” Torres said. “So I applied and ended up getting the job here.”
Employment resources are the most popular services offered in the Carrboro office, Torres said.
“A lot of people come in for employment,” he said. “They’ll come in to have a resume filled out or to have an email sent to a prospective employer. This area is growing, and a lot of people are looking for jobs.”
As the Latino populations in Carrboro have grown in the past two years, Rocha-Goldberg said she has seen a need for the organization to grow.
According to census data, the Carrboro Latino population grew from 12.3 percent in 2000 to 13.8 percent in 2010.
Most of El Centro Hispano’s funding comes from grants from local governments and foundations. As the programs in Carrboro expand, Rocha-Goldberg said the organization has had to seek out more funding.
“Since we are kind of new in Carrboro, we’re always trying to find ways to fundraise,” Rocha-Goldberg said.
She said there is a community-wide fundraising event planned in March for the Carrboro office.
“Our main objective is to invigorate the Hispanic community,” Rocha-Goldberg said.
Sanchez, who has worked with El Centro Hispano for five years, said the organization provides a unified identity for the Latino community.
“You know, we came from all different countries,” Sanchez said. “We kind of have those labels of where are you from. But at the end of the day, it’s who we are. We are Latinos. We are here together and helping each other.”
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