El Centro Hispano was founded more than 17 years ago in the basement of a church after it became apparent that Latinos were having problems assimilating into American culture. The organization grew into a cornerstone for Latinos in Durham.
Now El Centro Hispano, largely unknown in Orange County is expanding to Carrboro.
“It started with one volunteer and they offered some ESL classes and basic things. Then they started bringing more people in, hired an executive director and then we moved to our building on West Main Street 10 years ago,” said Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, executive director of El Centro Hispano.
After opening, El Centro Hispano saw problems in how Hispanics handled their money. Latinos who kept their money on their person or hidden in their homes were often robbed.
“The concept of having a bank account, especially in rural areas, is not a good thing so people keep their money under their mattresses or wherever. On Fridays when the Latino community got paid they had the money in their pockets and they were getting robbed,” said Rocha-Goldberg.
In 1999 Hispanic leaders in the Durham area began to meet and discuss the problem. El Centro Hispano, credit union activists and other banking and advocacy institutions began talking and a year later the Latino Community Credit Union was given their charter and opened its doors.
“About 70 percent of Hispanics have not had a bank account and don’t have credit history. And they do not know how to deal with the banking institutions,” said Alejandro Sanchez, director of organizational development for LCCU.
The two non-profits worked side-by-side in the same building for several years before the credit union decided to find its larger venue, which opened in January 2010.
“We believe in the model of having social service and financial services close together. But they were growing, so they decided to be independent, separated from El Centro Hispano and now are a totally independent organization,” said Rocha-Goldberg.
El Centro Hispano offers a variety of services to its members. The center offers a membership program where individuals pay $20 a year or $30 for families, and it gives them access to all the programs offered.
Members have their pictures taken and the laminated cards include personal information. The cards give Latinos discounts in some businesses and also serve as informal identification at others.
“But that doesn’t mean if they don’t get a membership then they can’t come here, because no matter what everything is free except for the summer camp program and the soccer leagues because we need funding for those programs,” said Rocha-Goldberg.
The list of services offered is endless at El Centro Hispano. Their offices are located in a brightly colored building downtown Durham. The orange and yellow walls serve as a backdrop for the English classes, Spanish literacy classes, youth tutoring, drinking prevention workshops and HIV/STD prevention workshop-just to name a few.
“The services and culture program is a service where people come in without an appointment for whatever they need. Translation, interpretation, questions about the health system and we connect them with the resources in the community if we cannot help them in the center,” said Rocha-Goldberg.
Similarly the Latino Community Credit Union, a member-owned non-profit has been making its own impact since it opened its doors more than 10 years ago. To date they have opened 10 branches all over North Carolina and have become a trusted credit union in the eyes of the communities where they reside.
Its mission “is to improve the financial condition of the Hispanic community through the delivery of affordable financial services and financial education programs specifically targeted to underserved Hispanic immigrants in North Carolina,” according to Web site.
To set up an account with LCCU, Latinos need a government-issued identification document from their country, legal proof of residency, a $20 membership fee and a $10 minimum deposit. And the bank offers accounts regardless of the status of the individual.
But LCCU is not a bank, it is a credit union and the difference is large. They are non-profits and are therefore able to offer more competitive interest rates and have lower fees. And everyone who is a member of the credit union has a stake in its ownership.
The LCCU Web site says, “Credit unions are different from other financial institutions. They believe that it is the fundamental right of all people to have access to loans and affordable financial services. The credit union movement is based on self-help, helping people help themselves.”
Sanchez says that LCCU is very excited to be coming to Carrboro, and although they don’t have an exact opening date they hope it will be within the first couple of weeks in April.
“We are very excited to open in Carrboro because it will give us a chance to help the Latino community and become involved in the community. The special thing about Carrboro is that it is very socially responsible and green. And there is a big need for the credit union because we can offer the Latinos affordable access to services and education,” said Sanchez.
Both El Centro Hispano and LCCU are looking forward to becoming part of Carrboro and getting to know and help the community get to know their Latino neighbors.
“It is important for Hispanics to learn the rules here, the system here, the culture here so that we can meet in the middle. It’s not just about the people accepting us, but also for us to accept the country we are living in,” said Rocha-Goldberg.
The credit union already has a space in Carrboro Plaza next to the Department of Motor Vehicles while El Centro Hispano is still in negotiations but would like to be as close to LCCU as possible.
“The idea was for us to open up with the credit union or around them, but it has been a challenge, but we are trying to find a building as soon as possible. We know how much the community needs it,” said Rocha-Goldberg.
The funding for the El Centro Hispano in Carrboro will mirror its sister branch in Durham, with the Durham board initially investing in the Carrboro center. The main source of income for El Centro Hispano in Durham comes through grant writing, although they also do fund-raising, and accrue income from the membership fees and paid classes that they offer, said Rocha-Goldberg.
The name of the new center in Carrboro will change to El Centro Hispano, but the partnership between members of El Centro Hispano and El Centro Latino will continue. Some of Latino’s board members will remain to unite Hispano with the community’s resources as will the previous volunteers.
“Some of their members will join the board so that they can share their ideas and knowledge of the area. They have been wonderful, very supportive and sending us wonderful connections and information,” said Rocha-Goldberg.
“We are ecstatic that they are coming-it is nothing but a win for the community. It is a collaboration built out of hard times that has come to fruition and the incredible people of El Centro Hispano will help us expand in ways we haven’t seen before,” said Torin Martinez, chair board of directors for El Centro Latino.