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Center tailor-made for Hispanics

Aim is helping hand that goes above, beyond, founders say by Chelsea Boozer | May 31, 2015 at 3:20 a.m.

The founder of a new Hispanic-focused referral center opening Monday in southwest Little Rock plans to do more than just tell people where they can find help.

When Soreya Colin gets clients at the free Centro De Apoyo Hispano, she'll not only tell them where they can get the health care, child care, legal aid and other services, but she'll also ensure that they get them -- even if that means going to appointments, making phone calls for them, writing their emails or helping fill out forms.

"We are going to make sure we have results," Colin said. "We're not going to say 'here's the information, go ahead and go.' We are going to follow it until it's been done."

Colin, 43, and Maria Jimemez, 30, have been making plans for a year to start the Centro De Apoyo Hispano Fundacion, which means Center of Advocacy for the Hispanic Community. The nonprofit goes by CDAH and is located in Suite 9 of the Windamere Plaza at 8211 Geyer Springs Road.

The duo figured that to make a difference, the Hispanic community needed real help -- not just a list of service providers -- as well as activities that bring together families.

In addition to referrals, the center will offer free weekly workshops for adults and children. Workshops will cover crafts, dancing, a Home Depot lesson on how to build wooden chairs and a Fire Department safety class. Colin also has applied for a grant to have computers donated for children to do homework after school.

No matter what problem people go there with, the center plans to help out. It could be someone dealing with domestic abuse, in which case Colin and Jimemez will help with filing a police report through police contacts they've already made. Or it could be someone needing help with a food stamps application or getting photo identification.

They also plan to make referrals to attorneys. An attorney in downtown Little Rock has offered to take on two pro bono cases a month -- criminal or civil, excluding immigration cases.

Colin is reaching out to consulates of different Latin American countries to get information on how Hispanics from those countries can obtain IDs in Little Rock and Arkansas. While Little Rock has a Mexican Consulate, only Mexicans can get services there.

Hispanics of all nationalities will be welcome at the center, Colin said. According to a 2013 Rockefeller Foundation study, the second-leading country of origin -- behind Mexico -- of the state's 133,000 foreigners is El Salvador.

The language barrier among many in the Hispanic community is something that many service providers aren't prepared to handle. The center plans to partner with those organizations to translate their pamphlets and brochures into Spanish free of charge and then display them for free in the center's office.

"Every paper sitting here in CDAH is going to be in Spanish -- every flier, every piece of information has to be in Spanish. We are going to do people's paperwork, offer copies. We will have faxes, emails. We will translate Spanish to English or English to Spanish," Colin said. "We will make calls and appointments and everything so they don't have to worry and say, 'Oh, I don't go because I don't speak English well.'"

Colin and Jimemez don't have a large investor backing their endeavor. Colin recently battled and beat a second bout of cancer and doesn't have another job. Jimemez is newly separated from her partner, has a part-time job and two young children.

Since all services offered at the center are free, neither will have any income from it. Yet, they plan to alternate staffing the office from 9 a.m. to at least 7 p.m., and sometimes later, every Monday through Saturday and then 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

"We believe it's better to do what we are doing than the money," Jimemez said.

Colin recalled when she and Jimemez were at her house and got the foundation's logo finished. She turned to Jimemez and said, "This is real."

Jimemez started crying.

"Because it's a dream for us to help the community, help the people, help the kids. Pulling families together is my dream and Soreya's dream, too," Jimemez said.

The community has reached out to help. Several people they know have donated furniture for their office, while others have volunteered to help staff the center.

And rent for their suite at Windamere Plaza? Owner Ron Lazemby has offered the space free of charge for one year.

"I like what they are doing," he said referring to the foundation. "It's something we try to help when we can. ... Just part of our business. The question isn't really why, it's why not?"

Colin, her husband and Jimemez have done most of the work to renovate the suite. She has applied for grants from Office Depot and other places to get a supply of paper and ink.

"It's the little things that made us believe that there's always something to believe in. It means when you have faith, when you have conviction, when you have the love to do something, there's always a good result," Colin said.

Colin and Jimemez already have three cases lined up for the nonprofit. One involves a woman who recently was told that her case for food stamps and ARKids health insurance for her children, who are U.S. citizens, was closed. The woman, who doesn't have U.S. citizenship or residency, said she wasn't given a reason.

Colin said the woman waited three hours in the lobby with her small children for someone who spoke Spanish to get on the phone and tell her there was nothing she could do.

"For me, that's a big no," Colin said. "You cannot treat people that way. She's a human being. Treat her nice."

In a similar situation this month, Colin went with another woman to the office and asked to speak with a manager about that woman's case being dropped without explanation. It ended with the case reopened and the manager asking whether that office could partner with the new center.

Colin, who is originally from Mexico, taught herself English while living in California. It was there she met her inspiration -- California Assemblyman Rocky Chavez. She saw how Chavez helped so many people even though he was just one person. Over the years as she moved to Alabama and then Arkansas, she volunteered with different groups and believed they didn't do as much as they could.

"I told myself: 'Soreya, you're Hispanic. If it isn't you, who else is going to do it?'" she said, explaining how her dream for the new center began.

"When butterflies move from Canada to Mexico, they suffer a lot, but they made it. They made it because they don't stop. They stop only to take a breath, and they start flying. This is me. I'm a butterfly," she said. "If I make a stop, it's only to take a break, and then I keep going. And I never look back. At all."

Metro on 05/31/2015

Print Headline: Center tailor-made for Hispanics

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