Centro celebrates 40 years of giving help in Elgin area
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org June 30, 2012 2:44PM
Gazmend Alitovski, of Elgin, speaks about his experience after immigrating to the United States from Macedonia during the New Citizen Recognition Ceremony at City Hall in Elgin, Ill., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
Updated: August 2, 2012 10:28AM
ELGIN — Newspaper articles published when Centro de Informacion first opened in Elgin mention a “Center of Information” that “helps Spanish Americans with their problems.”
A lot has changed since then, both at Centro de Informacion and in Elgin, according to Executive Director Jaime Garcia.
“Various needs come and go depending on what’s going on in the community, the economy, the nation,” Garcia said.
“We are here to help.”
This year, Centro de Informacion is “Celebrando 40,” celebrating 40 years serving the Elgin area.
That’s according to the signs posted Wednesday all over the nonprofit Hispanic social service agency’s downtown Elgin office at 28 N. Grove Ave. during a regular meeting of the Elgin Hispanic Network.
Hosting the meeting is one way Centro de Informacion is celebrating the milestone anniversary, Garcia said. It also hosted an open house in March and will host its annual gala in October at Villa Olivia in Bartlett, he said.
“We started out because there was a great need,” he said. “Back then, we thought there were a lot of Hispanics in the Elgin area. There were 5,000, and we thought there were a lot.”
Garcia supervised the executive board of Centro de Informacion when it opened, just up the street from its Elgin office, 40 years ago.
It was started by a board of Catholic churches in Elgin and St. Charles and United Methodist churches in Elgin, South Elgin, Carpentersville, West Dundee, Burlington and Plato Center. About a decade later, it split from those churches “to become a community agency as opposed to a church ministry,” he said.
There were no Spanish-speaking personnel then at banks, offices or stores around the area, Garcia said. So Centro de Informacion volunteers helped translate for Spanish-speaking Hispanic residents. They helped fill out forms, find jobs and housing, and enroll in government programs.
Now, more than 43 percent of Elgin residents — or more than 46,000 people — are Hispanic, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. And nearly the same percentage of Elgin residents speak a language other than English at home, it said.
Most people still come to the center for information and advocacy, but their number has grown to about 15,000 each year at three offices — not only in Elgin but also in Carpentersville and Hanover Park, Garcia said.
Their clients are predominantly low-income Hispanic immigrants, according to the center’s website. But it also helps immigrants from all over the world: “From Poland and Russia and the Philippines — you name it, we got it,” he said.
Over the past five years, it has helped more than 1,400 people become U.S. citizens, Garcia said.
Centro de Informacion also has an emergency food pantry, offering food for two to three days, no more than once a month. It offers classes about parenting, seminars about foreclosures, an immigration program, and a popular financial literacy program called “Mi Dinero.”
“We have a population that is hard to ignore,” he said. “It’s the elephant in the room.”