September 30, 2014

Elyria
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El Centro celebrates 38 years of service

LORAIN — Daniel Radocaj looked proudly at the monthly food pantry distribution at El Centro as it finished up earlier this month.

The pantry, with food from Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, distributes 300 boxes feeding about 900 people. The pantry, open noon to 3 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month, began after El Centro moved to the center at 2800 Pearl Ave., at the East 28th Street intersection in December. The 11,000-square-foot building is far bigger than the cramped former home, a three-floor Victorian-style house at 1888 E. 31st St.

“We could never, ever have offered this in the old building,” said Radojac, El Centro’s fiscal director. The Latino community center, which opened in 1974, celebrates its 38th anniversary Saturday and faces growing demand for help. Two major areas where help is needed are job training and help sorting out immigration problems.

Latino unemployment is significantly above the national rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — 9.9 percent last month compared to the 7.8 percent overall rate — and there were a record 400,000 deportations of illegal immigrants in each of the last two years. Radocaj said the center staff translate for immigrants, some of whom have had relatives deported.

The center — about 77 percent of whose clients are Latino — also offers domestic violence prevention and money management programs as well as English as a second language and English immersion classes, translation services, a senior center and a youth center. Radocaj said the center’s size also allows other social service agencies and organizations to use it.

English classes also include a business English class for job applicants.

“It’s basically giving them confidence with the language, to then help them conduct a successful job search and then have a successful employment experience,” he said, adding that the center hopes to offer Spanish classes to English speakers in the future.

Radojac said the center and its clients have felt the impact of the Great Recession. Unemployment in Lorain was 8.3 percent last month, down from 9 percent in August, but still substantially above the overall county rate of 6.8 percent.

“It impacts us in terms of something as simple as the food (pantry), in terms of the need here, and it affects us in terms of our employment program,” he said. “It’s not an easy task.”

El Centro’s annual gala benefiting the center is 6 p.m. to midnight Friday at DeLuca’s Place in the Park, 6075 Middle Ave. For more information, contact Emanuel Pedraza at 277-8235, ext. 7020, or mpedraza@lorainelcentro.org.

El Centro anniversary

  • Founded in 1974
  • Number of staff: 15
  • Number of clients: 2,000 (not including nearly 2,000 food pantry clients served this year)
  • Annual household income of clients: 83 percent between $10,000 and $20,000
  • Annual budget: $1 million

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.