The Latin American Community Center (LACC), if you’ll pardon the cliché, is not just another community center. That’s what struck us when our small grant people took a look at the LACC website. Most community centers offer some nice programming, but in terms of sheer scale and quality, nothing even close to what the Latin American Community Center offers those it serves.
With our focus on mentoring and education for children, we found the LACC programming for young people both comprehensive and empowering. LACC is a place where they can learn important new skills in a safe and nurturing environment. We went to Latin American Community Center Director of Development Kelly Scanlon and Director of Youth Development Wanda Burgos-Rincon—referred to here collectively as LACC—to find out more about this work.
Kars4Kids: Tell us something about the community you serve. What are the challenges confronted by this community?
LACC: The Latin American Community Center (LACC) serves primarily low-income, Limited English Proficient (LMI) Latino individuals and families that reside in Wilmington, Delaware and the surrounding area. The LACC is located in Wilmington’s Hilltop Neighborhood. 56% of Hilltop residents have household incomes at or below 100% of the U.S. poverty level and 47% speak a language other than English at home. Hilltop has a drug overdose death rate six times higher than the state average. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in neighborhoods such as Hilltop, 60% of children have experienced trauma, compared to 20% statewide.
Additionally, the community we serve was hit hard by the economic impact of the pandemic. UnidosUS reports that only 16% of jobs held by Latinos could be done from home. This left many Latinos in Delaware out of work for months, with some individuals still out of work almost two years since the pandemic’s start. Of the people who were able to work through the pandemic, the majority of these individuals were essential workers who were at much higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic was especially dire for the many undocumented individuals served by the LACC as they were ineligible for support such as SNAP and stimulus checks.
While more jobs have become available in 2021 and 2022, allowing more people to return to the workforce, many of these individuals are still behind on bills from earlier in the pandemic when they were without income. Furthermore, many childcare centers permanently closed during the pandemic. Without access to reliable childcare, parents are unable to return to the workforce. The LACC has over 30 programs to help combat the challenges faced by our community. This includes, but is not limited to, an Early Development Center, Before and After School programming, ESL Classes, a Workforce Development Program, a Financial Literacy Program, Crisis Alleviation funds to help families prevent eviction and/or utility shut off, and a food closet.
Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of the history of “El Centro Latino,” as it is known in the community?
LACC: The mission of the LACC is to empower the Latino community through education, advocacy, partnerships, and exceptional services. The agency vision is a thriving Latino community. Since its founding in 1969, the agency has transformed drastically from a small, grassroots organization into Delaware’s largest multi-service bilingual agency serving the Latino community.
Known in the community as “El Centro Latino,” the LACC is the longest-serving and most trusted nonprofit agency dedicated to serving Delaware’s Latino community. The LACC provides holistic wraparound support and advocates for low-income children, youth, and families in a bilingual, safe, and culturally specific environment. The LACC offers more than 30 programs in two strategically focused tracks: Lifelong Learning, which provides a broad spectrum of educational services from ages six weeks to 18 years, and Life Empowerment, which helps low- and moderate-income (LMI) minority individuals and families achieve or re-establish self-sufficiency. Agency programs include but are not limited to La Fiesta Early Development Center, Before and After School Community Learning Centers, English as a Second Language, Crisis Alleviation Funds, Food Closet, Workforce Development, $tand By Me Financial Literacy, Los Abuelos Senior Program, Domestic Violence Prevention, HIV Early Intervention Program, and Case Management.
For over 50 years the LACC has served as a vital community anchor, serving more than 7,000 individuals annually. Located in Wilmington’s Hilltop neighborhood; the most densely populated area in Delaware with one of the highest concentrations of unemployment, poverty, single- parent households, and children (2013 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Tracks 22 and 23); the LACC has been addressing growing community needs for programming since its inception and has led Delaware’s efforts to support the Latino community throughout the pandemic.
Kars4Kids: What is the goal of your Before and After School program? Can you tell us a bit about this program?
LACC: The goals of the LACC Before and After School Programs is to provide a positive, safe, home-away-from-home environment where children are developing academically, socially, emotionally and physically. We also work with partner schools to advocate on behalf of families and build strong connections to contribute to the overall academic, social and emotional success of the students we serve. We serve students from kindergarten-12 years old, representing over 15 different schools across 5 different school districts and multiple charter schools. Our highly qualified, bilingual staff are thoroughly trained in a variety of areas, including trauma-informed care, positive behavior management, curriculum and academic support including Nemours BrightStart Early Literacy Curriculum and the Common Core.
Enrichment activities are also offered to students to contribute to their holistic well-being, granting them opportunities to participate in a variety of STEM, Art, Music & Movement, and Mindfulness programs. This includes: Boy and Girl Scouts, Wilmington Children’s Chorus through partnership with OperaDelaware, Kind to Kids Life Skills Program, University of Delaware Mentor Program, and many more.
We operate four Before and After School Programs: The LACC Learning Center, The Learning Center at William C. Lewis Elementary, The Learning Center at Academia Antonia Alonso, and La Fiesta II Before and After School Program. Three of our programs participate in the Delaware Stars for Early Success, which focuses on building on quality improvement of our programs to contribute to the overall success of our students. The LACC Learning Center and La Fiesta II Before and After School Program are a Star Level 5, and the Learning Center at William C. Lewis is a Star Level 3.
Kars4Kids: You have a Youth Achievement Center. What sort of activities are offered through this program? How many youth are enrolled in this program?
LACC: The Youth Achievement Center supports students 13-18 years old, to act as a safe haven during their out of school time. The goal of the YAC is to provide an engaging environment for teens to positively express themselves in a safe environment through a variety of enrichment activities, while also having access to academic support and small group tutoring across all academic subjects. The Youth Achievement Center boasts a variety of activities, including: art, cooking classes, drug prevention, sports leagues, dance classes, swimming, ESL, and academic tutoring. This program works in partnership with A.I Middle School and A.I. High School recruit students for the program.
Kars4Kids: What is the LACC High School Credit Recovery Program?
LACC: The Credit Recovery Program works in conjunction with the Red Clay School District High Schools. This program supports students who, for a variety of reasons, cannot complete school in the traditional classroom setting. Instead, they are under the supervision of the LACC Credit Recovery Program Coordinator, which supports them through their online learning platform. The goal of the program is to ensure students are on track to return to the traditional school setting, or graduate with the program. This program has been a staple in the community and important resource towards closing the achievement gap for young Latinos in Delaware.
Kars4Kids: How does the Hispanic Student Recognition Program work? What is the focus and goal of this particular program?
LACC: The Hispanic Student Recognition Program runs state-wide to call for nominations from teachers, counselors, coaches, and community members to celebrate the incredible achievements of Hispanic students in the state of Delaware. Students are nominated across 5 categories: Visual and/or Performing Arts, Community Service, Academic Excellence, STEM, and Athletics. Students put together portfolios that are evaluated by an outside committee that based on a thorough rubric, scores the portfolios to decide the winner of each category. At the end, there are also two students who score the highest out of all of the categories that is chosen for SOY (Student of the Year). An in-person ceremony is held for all nominees in the spring time, which includes a motivational keynote speaker, and a variety of performances. The goal of this program is to showcase the incredible talents and hard work of Hispanic students across the state of Delaware, while celebrating their heritage and cultural roots
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about your summer camp? Is it a day camp?
LACC: The LACC’s 10-week Summer Camp serves students from kindergarten-12 years old. Each summer, our goal is to close the learning gap for students during the summer months, for all of our students to have a smooth transition into the next grade. This has been especially important in the midst of the pandemic, due to students receiving interrupted instruction as a result of the virtual learning that took place during the 2020-2021 school year. Our camp operates from 6:45am-5:30 pm Monday-Friday for ten weeks. While we do concentrate heavily on the academic component to keep students on or above grade level in reading and math, we also make sure our students are provided with a variety of experiences that contribute to their overall summer experience, including trips, and in-house presentations and activities across: arts, physical activity, social-emotional well-being, team building, developmental milestones, STEM, healthy lifestyles, and more.
Kars4Kids: How has the pandemic affected your programs?
LACC: The pandemic greatly impacted the demand for programming and as a result, many agency programs have seen considerable growth over the past 2 years. During 2020, the number of individuals served more than doubled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The LACC has worked tirelessly since the beginning of the pandemic to ensure the needs of Delaware’s Latino community were being met. The LACC never stopped providing services to the community. Staff immediately began to implement creative strategies to continue programming whether it was through virtual sessions via zoom, phone calls, and Facebook live; coordinating outdoor outreach and community events such as hosting outdoor job fairs; and for some programs, continuing to provide services in person.
The LACC became one of the first childcare centers in the state to be approved as an emergency childcare site, serving children ages 6 weeks to 6th grade. This ensured that essential workers were able to continue to work and provide for their families, confident that their children were in a safe, culturally specific environment while schools and other childcare centers were closed. As it became clear that pandemic restrictions were going to be in place for the foreseeable future, the LACC quickly acquired the resources to transition the Before and After School Community Learning Centers into the Community Learning Center Hub. Through this effort, the LACC was able to provide full day support to children as they completed virtual schooling. The LACC ensured each student had access to wifi, a device, and additional academic support at the LACC so that they would not fall behind their peers as virtual learning continued. Although schools have now returned to an in-person model, the LACC continues to support these children by providing additional academic support before and after school and by providing full day care when a school may be closed due to a COVID outbreak.
Additionally, the LACC has been providing Crisis Alleviation funds to families during the pandemic to help them to cover rent, mortgage, and/or utility bills. In 2020 the LACC assisted 866 households consisting of 1,579 children and 1,684 adults. Support consisted of $792,729.27 of crisis alleviation funds and $23,018.40 worth of food. While demand decreased in 2021 as more individuals returned to work, the LACC still distributed $195,605 in Crisis Alleviation funds which is a 459% increase compared pre-pandemic numbers in 2019. Additionally, LACC case workers assisted clients in submitting more than 500 Delaware Housing Assistance Program (DEHAP) applications in 2021 which resulted in clients receiving $229,730 in rental assistance. This partnership with DEHAP has also allowed the LACC to hire two Case Managers who are dedicated to helping families complete DEHEAP applications. These applications have the potential to make a huge impact on families because DEHAP is able to support clients with rental arrears as well as up to three months of prospective (forward) rent up to a total maximum of 15 months at $2,000/month. Utilities that are due to the landlord, late fees and court fees can also be covered by DEHAP and are included within the $2,000/month maximum. Many LACC clients were out of work for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are still working to try and catch up on bills from that time frame. DEHAP gives these clients the support they need to cover months of rental arrears, helping them to reestablish self-sufficiency.
In addition to existing programming, the LACC launched a new program in August 2020, ConeXiones, to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinos in Delaware. Since its inception ConeXiones has hosted education sessions and workshops as well as hosted vaccination and testing events. In 2021 ConeXiones hosted 4 COVID workshops, 3 community engagement workshops, and 18 vaccination clinics where 1,256 doses of vaccine were administered.
Additionally, in November 2021 program staff were trained to conduct COVID-19 PCR testing and the LACC has now been able to offer onsite testing twice a week. In the first 2 weeks of 2022 alone, staff tested over 122 people with rapid COVID-19 testing and over 744 people with PCR COVID-19 tests. Program staff also sit on a variety of local committees and coalitions to ensure decision makers are taking the needs of the Latino community into account when developing COVID-19 relief, education, and policy.
In addition to these in-person services, many of the programs that shifted to a virtual model saw a dramatic increase in demand. The ESL program currently has 132 students enrolled in the program, the largest cohort the agency has ever had. The Workforce Development program had to expand and hire a part time program assistant to help individuals with job searches, applications, and unemployment claims. The Financial Literacy program was able to both help clients who were financially impacted by the pandemic to find ways to make ends meet as well as help those who continued to work through the pandemic reach their financial goals, including 11 clients who were able to purchase their first home. Based on the success of virtual services, many LACC programs are planning on maintaining a virtual or hybrid model beyond the pandemic as we have found that virtual services make programming more accessible to our community.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Latin American Community Center?
LACC: Right now, the biggest thing on the horizon is our Education Expansion Project. The LACC’s Education Expansion Project will expand access to high-quality early childhood education and increase opportunities for low-income children to engage in the active outdoor play that is crucial for a healthy lifestyle. The project includes new construction of a 15,000 sq. foot Infant and Toddler Center at the corner of 4th and Van Buren streets, across the street from our main building, and a 4,000 sq. foot Outdoor Playground at the corner of 4th and Harrison.
The Infant and Toddler Center will enable LACC to provide high-quality early learning to 214 children ages 0-5. The playground will enable 300 elementary students from primarily low-income Hispanic families enrolled in LACC’s after-school and summer programs to get the exercise they need to support healthy lifestyles. This project will also create 30 new permanent jobs and revitalize the Fourth Street corridor on Wilmington’s West Side. The project broke ground in October of 2021, construction will be complete in December 2022, and the new Infant and Toddler Center will be open for occupancy in January 2023
The LACC is also looking to purchase a permanent location in New Castle, Delaware which will provide early development and school age programs for families in New Castle. Additionally, the building will include a co-working space and the LACC plans to develop a rotating schedule to enable staff from all agency programs to work from this space so that individuals in New Castle who do not have transportation to get to our main building in Wilmington can still easily access agency services.
Beyond the expansion project, the LACC is looking to continue to grow our programs to ensure we are able to best meet the needs of our community.