“You don’t have to be an immigrant and you don’t’ have to be of Latin descent,” Veronica Gloria, executive director, said. “You don’t have to speak Spanish.”
In fact, Gloria stressed the word “community” in the center’s name as it “speaks to everyone," she said. Although 70 percent of the people it serves are Hispanic, about 25 percent are black and 5 percent are white.
“It was started to serve the migrant community. That was the focus in the beginning; hence the name” Gloria said. “But it’s been serving a diverse clientele for a long time.”
Known by a variety of names through the years, including the Spanish Center, this 501 (c) 3 non-for-profit organization is also a U.S. immigration and Naturalization Services Community Based Organization and is registered with the Illinois Attorney General for
immigration service, according to the center’s website.
Yet that’s not the reason most of the 8,000 individuals the Spanish Community Center serves each year comes through the door.
“Most folks first come through our food pantry,” Gloria said. “From there they learn about other services and get the confidence to speak up about other needs.”
A major one is “definitely housing,” Gloria said, well as legal services and childcare. That’s why the Spanish Community Services offers, in addition to its food pantry (which serves 200 families a month), housing counseling, daycare, immigration services, clothing, furniture vouchers and educational programs in Spanish: GED classes, computer classes and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes).
The center also offers a two-way bilingual year-round day care for children ages 2 through 5. There’s even Zumba.
“The classes are popular right now and open to the public,” Gloria said.
Special events includes the center’s annual Children’s Day event, typically held in late April or early May) and Backpack Day.
“This year we held it at the Nowell Park Recreation Center,” Gloria said. “Between 400 and 500 people came. And last year we had National Night Out with the Joliet Police Department. We got pretty good community representation at that event, as well.”
The center recently partnered with St. John Paul II in Kankakee to offer weekly programs.
“There was such a need for parenting classes, housing and legal services,” Gloria said.
But another partner is the Department of Human Services.