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The Hispanic Center serves, educates and advocates

When Martha Gonzalez-Cortez started with Hispanic Center of Western Michigan in 1999, there was a rat living in the basement and the organization had about 30 days of funding left.

Fast forward 13 years, and the Center has gone from a staff of less than five people to more than 30 employees, and from an operating budget of $300,000 to a $2 million dollar budget that’s comfortably in the black.

In 2007, they moved into their current Gold LEED-certified building on the corner of Grandville and Hall. The historic building used to be an old fire station and, thankfully, there are no rats.  

The Hispanic Center has been serving, educating and advocating for the Hispanic community and others in West Michigan since 1978. With roughly 400,000 Hispanics living in Michigan, the West Michigan area has the second largest population in the state, the largest Cuban and Guatemalan populations statewide and the most migrant farm workers.
The Hispanic Center does not serve all of the Hispanics in West Michigan, only those who need them the most. They work with around 10,000 people per year and their clients are mainly those who don’t have a support network here in West Michigan, those in crisis and the working poor.

“Our goal is not to serve all Latinos, only the most vulnerable,” says Gonzalez-Cortez. “The Latinos with stable jobs and generations of families here don’t engage us.”

She adds that the Center doesn’t pretend to speak for all Hispanics, or serve all, because they don’t. They focus on those who truly need their services and the goal is always to promote self-sufficiency.

The organization’s family support services area helps with emergency housing assistance, domestic violence problems, mental health challenges, wage concerns, civil rights issues and they also act as an information and referral resource in the community.  

Gonzalez-Cortez says their core value is to be an “organization that unwaveringly believes in the power of culture to promote positive social change.”

The Hispanic Center also encourages “the upward mobility of all.” They lay the groundwork for this through the Center’s educational services, providing people of all ages with language skills, computer training, GED support and assistance in finding a job.

In addition to the family support services and the education and employment services, the Hispanic Center advocates for “the human dignity of all” by tackling unpopular causes such as immigration rights, migrant farm worker issues and the challenges associated with gang members and prison inmates. 
To promote a strong community in the future, the Hispanic Center has a popular youth program that tutors, mentors and supports Hispanic young adults from ages 13 to 21.

The organization is also behind such popular cultural events as the Hispanic Festival, the Latin Extravaganza, the Dia de los Muertos Celebration and more.

The Hispanic Center’s El Centro Translations serves individuals and organizations through Spanish classes, interpretations and translations in several different languages as well.

For nearly 35 years, the Hispanic Center has been providing social services to Hispanics in the West Michigan area, educating people of all ages and advocating on behalf of those who need it the most.

The easiest way to support them is by attending the Hispanic Festival September 7 and 8 -- you get to eat delicious ethnic food and enjoy culturally enriching entertainment while helping them raise the money needed to continue serving the community. Here are some other ways to get involved:

-    Visit the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan online to find out more.
-    Volunteer at the Hispanic Center. (You don’t have to know Spanish to volunteer.)
-    Donate financially or donate goods on the Center’s wish list.
-    Attend the Hispanic Festival September 7-8 at Calder Plaza.
-    Contact El Centro Translations at the Hispanic Center for Spanish classes or if you need something translated into a number of different languages.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Martha Gonzalez-Cortes, Chief Executive Officer at the Hispanic Center for Western Michigan

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Hispanic Center for Western Michigan.
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