Guest columnist: A home for the holidays: El Centro Hispano

Dec. 24, 2012 @ 07:05 AM

Let me take you back six weeks ago -- I am sitting in the lobby of El Centro Hispano for the first time waiting to speak with one of its directors. Community members laughing and chatting in Spanish in the lobby, facilitators are busy organizing event, and children are huddled together, working on a puzzle.

The warmth of the center radiates upon me and beckons me to engage. I remember being astounded at how many programs and how much assistance El Centro offers to the community. It is truly a key pillar of Durham. When I asked Maria Machada from Durham about the sense of community here, she said, “If El Centro were not around, we would truly lose a part of ourselves.”

What many immigrants lose when they come to the United States is a similar sense of community that they had in their native country. In Durham, El Centro Hispano is that community. With after-school tutoring programs, dance classes, adult ESL classes, Spanish classes, health and education fairs and more, El Centro is truly a hospitable and gracious neighbor. It is a place for old friends to convene and new connections to blossom. El Centro welcomes people of all backgrounds. Even those who don’t speak Spanish have found opportunities here.

Now, six weeks later, I once again sit in the lobby of El Centro. What has changed in six weeks? There is a Christmas tree in the corner and I recognize many of the faces I see here, but the community is just as friendly and warm as I remember it upon the first meeting. As a student at the University of North Carolina, I came to El Centro Hispano via a service requirement for one of my classes, but I am excited to stay involved with events at El Centro after the term is completed.

During the holiday season, family, friends, and food are emphasized. The feeling of belonging and being part of a close community is proven to bring strength to a person’s life. What better way to feel the warmth and strength of a community than to visit El Centro Hispano? If El Centro has given something to you this year, then consider giving back to this place. I urge you to become a member or volunteer. Individual membership only costs $25 for one year and the benefits are enormous. Once you are a member, you will receive a membership identification card with a photo, the right to vote for El Centro’s board of directors, discounts at local businesses and El Centro events and more. Volunteers typically help the children during the after-school tutoring program. El Centro will find you a great volunteer opportunity depending on your interests and abilities.

What will you find when you come to El Centro this holiday season? Perhaps it will be the smile on a child’s face when he tells his tutor that he has better grades in English class, or maybe a new friend through the salsa and bachata classes. Whatever you find at El Centro this season, you will undoubtedly be welcomed into the community whole-heartedly.

For more information about El Centro Hispano, please contact:

Francisco Duque

(919) 687-4635

Erin Burks is originally from Asheville, and is now a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, pursuing a degree in global studies.