Area organizations are using outreach to assist a population that includes African Americans, whites, as well as Latinos
By Jeremiah Patterson
There are two signs on an outside door of the Cora Kelly Recreation Center in Alexandria, Va. One gives directions in English, the other in Spanish. And while they literally instruct people to use the other door, the side-by-side signs also convey another message — that the recreation center welcomes all community residents, regardless of the language they speak.
It’s a small example of the center’s efforts to reach out to the surrounding population, a community that is notably Latino. Cisco Fabian is not only the facility manager at Cora Kelly, but also the unofficial liaison to Spanish-speaking residents. He helps them with job postings or services and helps them navigate the English-speaking world.
“We have a lot of Hispanic participants that come to the center who are not always able to communicate their thoughts,” says Fabian.
Much of the Latino population is condensed in an area called Arlandria, a name derived from Arlington to the north and Alexandria to the south. With Mount Vernon Avenue as its main street, many business signs advertise in Spanish, dotting the strip from the laundromat at one end to the car wash at the other. But Fabian says Arlandria is more diverse than it seems.
“There’s more than just Latinos living in that particular community. You have the African-American community. You also have the white, Caucasians.” Despite this fact, he says most people only notice the “Latino face.”
Lawrence Brown, interim director at Cora Kelly offers an explanation for the cluster: “I think that culturally speaking, likes form with likes.”
That doesn’t mean different cultures always stay separated, he says. Rather, that people with cultural similarities tend to group together.
Brown notes the center caters to a diversified culture, but says there’s still more work to be done in reaching out to Arlandria residents. “Certainly the language barrier can be an issue,” he says.
Community Lodgings, another organization in the area, shares a similar relationship with Arlandria. The nonprofit works primarily to take families from shelters and place them in transitional housing. It also has a learning center to help adults with computer and English skills.
“People are coming in to get help with a phone call or an electric bill they don’t understand or looking on the Internet to look for a job or filling out a resume,” says Bonnie Baxley, executive director. “That’s where we make a key impact in the community.”
Back at Cora Kelly, Fabian tells a story of a man he’s seen around the center, who he knows is homeless. The man visits to lift weights, shower and shave. Fabian says he’s talked with the man before — an kind of outreach he sees as just another part of his job. And at the end of the day, Fabian says he’s just happy to be making a difference.
“Whenever I see a happy face, that means I’m excited about it. That we are actually doing something to benefit this community.”