“They are all so different from one another, yet they are all so passionate about what we are doing at the Center,” Judith Blau said of the three who run the Human Rights Center.
Alfonso Hernandez, Nancy Hilburn, and Raphael Gallegos, work to fulfill the mission of the center, which Blau created, everyday.
The walls of the center, are painted bright and cheerful colors, one fading into another as the walls fold into another part of the apartment in Abbey Court Condominiums where the center is located.
The living room has been turned into a study room with desk space lining the area and computers neatly sitting on top. The sounds of educational games and laughter ring through the center, and it doesn’t take long to notice the magic abound.
Gallegos was the first to come along, joining the center as a graduate student. He is from Mexico and spent eight years living in Germany before moving to North Carolina and attending N.C. State University. He graduated with a B.A. in sociology and Latin American Literature before coming to UNC-CH to begin his master’s program in sociology.
“I was initially assigned to TA for Dr. Blau during the fall of 2008. At the time, Dr. Blau was working on establishing a nonprofit organization. We talked about Abbey Court and helping the Latino community,” said Gallegos.
After the organization was created, Blau rented out an apartment at Abbey Court and established the Center.
“The ultimate goal would be to have the resources to assist all the undeserved population of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. To be able to close the economic, social and cultural divide that exists,” said Gallegos.
Hernandez came along during this time, too. Blau was introduced to him, and they began a friendship through email. They shared a special alliance for human rights and it was not long before Blau asked him to move into the Center.
“Alfonso and I met in Abbey Court and I liked him a lot. Then, when I decided to rent the apartment, I needed someone to live there to be consistent with zoning laws and I asked him to move in. When you meet someone good you have to hold on to them,” said Blau.
Hernandez’s mother had decided to move to Texas, so the offer to live at the center came at the perfect time for them both. The center was just beginning to take off.
“In the beginning the center struggled to gain trust from the community, but once the connection with Scroggs Elementary School was made, the center began to bloom like the beautiful flower it is,” said Hernandez.
Posters are hung up on the walls translating simple words into English and overflowing bookshelves line the wall in the dining area. Student volunteers sit with their heads down focused on the children they are working with, helping them complete their homework.
Nancy Hilburn is the final piece of the team. She works at Mary Scroggs Elementary School as an inclusion specialist during school hours and in the center after school four days a week.
One afternoon she was asked to join a meeting with school associates, Blau and Gallegos. From the meeting came the relationship that formed between the Center and Scroggs.
“In the meeting with Dr. Blau, it was apparent that she and Raphael were open to a partnership with our school in which we could work with the children of Abbey Court in the Center,” said Hilburn.
“My role is as a tutor coordinator and liaison to Scroggs. I love that our children enjoy coming here and that we are a place that honors all people and wants all people to have what they deserve in life,” said Hilburn.
The Center offers English and computer classes for adults, help finding jobs and soccer programs for children.
The center operation is mostly the responsibility of Hilburn and Hernandez, while Blau and Gallegos spend time in the community advocating for human rights.
“We go to lots and lots of meetings together and sometimes give presentations because we are very engaged in this larger campaign for human rights in the community,” said Blau.
“The goal is to create a sense of community so that people fight to protect other people’s rights. To empower individuals, so that in the future they can fight for their rights,” said Gallegos.
The Center also has many UNC-CH student volunteers who tutor the children. Blau is a UNC-CH sociology professor and requires her students to spend a certain amount of time working at the Center.
“UNC-CH students are generally good volunteers, but coming from a human rights class they are especially good,” said Blau.
The foundation of the Center rests on the shoulders of Hernandez, Hilburn and Gallegos however. All are deeply devoted to the Center and spend a large amount of their personal time towards its growth.
“I don’t ever expect the world to have total peace because the world must have difficulties in order to grow and progress; this works in every level of life. What hope the Center is giving now and in the future, is to provide the necessities and education of society, and in broader terms, the world,” said Hernandez.