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Edgewater Organization Fights To Continue Work With Immigrants and Refugees Amid The State Budget Crisis

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Photo: Centro Romero FB

It could be a case where, thanks to tutoring, one child is now getting better grades, or an adult is now able to read and speak English. In another case, maybe a married man can proudly check the box on a form that says he is a U.S. citizen. For another, it might mean using all of these services to obtain a full-time job.

These are just a sample of what Centro Romero would call its success stories. The center, located 6216 N. Clark St. in Edgewater, is a community based organization founded in 1984 that serves the refugee immigrant population on Chicago’s northeast side.

But as Griffin Baron, administrative creative coordinator for Centro Romero, said on Tuesday, “we have people (who) have come from Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana. The word is out about Centro Romero. You don’t have to live in Edgewater to receive assistance.”

On March 18, the organization that provides four different types of services to a wide-range of immigrants whose first language is not English will be holding a Happy Hour 4 Kids fundraising event at Cescas Margarita Bar & Grill, 5403 N. Clark St., from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

The $25 tickets are being sold online and seek to raise money to support reading tutoring classes for 30 students at the center.

“Our youth program got hit pretty hard by budget cuts by the state,” Baron said.

Joseph C. Brooks IV, a volunteer who works full-time at another company, has organized the fundraising event.

Centro Romero provides programs for youth learning and leadership; family services (encapsulating domestic violence prevention, public benefits and the New Americans Initiative); adult education; and legal services.

According to the Centro Romero website, these are essential services that support healthy personal and social development of participants. They include but are not limited to adult education classes that help participants pass their GED and take part in English as a Second Language classes. The center also offers citizenship classes to help clients prepare for the U.S. Citizenship test.

“Our long-term organizational goal is to bridge a disenfranchised community of immigrants and refugees into mainstream American society as well as (improve) their opportunity for upward social mobility,” the site said. “Long-term sustainable growth of our target population will only be achieved through education, leadership development, advocacy, and service; we accordingly focus our energy on these related initiatives.”

Centro Romero is associated with Archbiship Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who became the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. He was an outspoken critic of injustice and a defender of the poor who denounced the violence of El Salvador’s civil war and what Centro Romero’s website said were the war’s accepted patterns of abuse and injustice.

The archbishop was later killed while serving Mass on March 24, 1980.

While many of Centro Romero’s clients are Spanish speakers, some speak other languages, as well. “Edgewater is a very diverse area,” Baron said. “We do have a lot of clients that are Hispanic, but … we have people from the Middle East, from Ghana, from all over the place. You’re not going to see just one ethnicity in the building.”

Centro Romero obtains about 50 percent of its funding from the state. These days, however, it’s having to rely more on private donors, organizations, grants and sponsors, Baron said, because of the budget impasse.

The organization served a little bit above 9,500 clients in 2015. That’s down from roughly 15,000 people in 2014.

“We haven’t turned people away,” Baron said. “It’s more that we can only do so much with what we have. We had to furlough staff, and so we had to cut about half our staff people. It knocked it down to about half to what we could help the people needing our services.”

Regarding the state budget problems, he added, “it’s been crazy. We’ve been down to Springfield a number of times, to talk about what we’ve done and how to get things fixed, and whatever we can do.”

Centro Romero now has about 30 employees, most of whom speak Spanish.

Baron has been at Centro Romero since November 2014. He is part of a three-person administrative team that also includes Executive Director Daysi Funes and Resource Developer Joseph Martens.

“We get a ton done with the amount of people we have,” Baron said. “It’s amazing how much this organization gets done. It’s a little powerhouse in a little tiny building.”

Loyalty among clients and their families also runs deep. Two children who were involved in the center’s youth program are now Centro Romero employees, Baron added. One heads the youth program, and the other is an accredited representative for the legal department.

Centro Romero is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The legal department has different hours, however. For more information, visit its website.


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