Heart of a Community: LHACC provides support, celebration for Harrisburg’s growing Latino population
Located in the heart of vibrant South Allison Hill, the Latino Hispanic American Community Center (LHACC) is gearing up for more initiatives on the heels of its successful block party in mid-September.
LHACC, a multi-faceted non-profit agency, provides information and referrals, case management, education outreach and a variety of advocacy services to the entire Latino community, with an eye on developing programs for youth and senior citizens.
Executive Director Gloria Vázquez Merrick explained that this year’s block party drew more than 800 people with stands featuring 40 different organizations, including churches, colleges, private businesses and other non-profit agencies. The party also featured a local salsa band, Los Monstros, a few Puerto Rican youth dance troupes, an awards ceremony for businesses with good diversity hiring records and several Latino food vendors. She pointed out that, in 2010, the gathering drew just 250 people, with 30 organizations sponsoring tables and stands.
“We were really excited about the turnout,” Vázquez Merrick said, “and the responses to the tables follow what we’ve been seeing.”
She noted that many of their clients—and they average about 600 to 700 service requests per month—are looking for help with food, employment, English as a Second Language classes and immigration problems.
“But a large percentage of folks coming to the center are coming for jobs,” she stated. “Today, we had an employment agency come in, so we connected them to the people on our list. We are also finding that employers are realizing the value of bilingual workers, and we help to fill those needs too.”
Many of these same clients, she added, are looking for English language classes and help with immigration issues such as renewing a green card or working on passports.
She added that, while the Center has a strong human services component with its case management program, the staff also has found that there’s a need for culturally sensitive and bilingual services for seniors and for youth.
“When we were first starting, we heard from many of our seniors that they felt left out and that they were in need of culturally sensitive programming,” she stated.
From there, Vázquez Merrick started a Wednesday night event for Latino seniors called the Sharing Wisdom program. This weekly gathering features visits from speakers presenting information about dealing with diabetes, heart disease, education and recreation. The participating seniors also play dominoes, cards, bingo and just socialize.
“We also found that there was a clear need for Latino youth programming,” Vázquez Merrick said. Based on those conversations, she began to conduct outreach to local universities and schools, eventually joining the Youth Advisory Council run by school board member Ruth Cruz-Roldan.
“We have met with Latino students from all across the area, and I’ve started an initiative that will involve youth leadership training and educational support,” she stated. “We need to invest in our young people.”
The Latino Hispanic American Community Center is located at 1301 Derry St., Harrisburg. More information can be found at www.lhacc.org or by calling 717-232-8302.