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Latino coalition gears up

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By Todd Cohen

ASHEBORO, N.C. — A new group aims to improve access to information and services for the rapidly growing Latino population in Randolph County, and to bridge the gap between Latinos and the rest of the community.

“People don’t know where to find the resources,” says Juan Rios, president of the Latino Coalition of Randolph County. “We know where the resources are in the community.”

Many people also misunderstand Latinos and Hispanics, and do not know how to reach them, says Rios, a native of Panama who teaches English as a second language at Asheboro High School.

Formed three years ago, the all-volunteer coalition recently secured its 501(c)3 charitable status from the Internal Revenue Services and now is working with a consultant to develop a three-year strategic plan and a board of directors.

“One of the primary goals is to build a strong enough organization that it can survive,” says Margaret Moore, the consultant and former executive director of Neighbors in Ministry, a now-defunct nonprofit that developed an Hispanic Services Coalition in Winston-Salem, now known as The Hispanic International Action Association.

Issues the coalition will try to address, Moore says, include health; economics; law, immigration and civic life; community education and promotion; culture; leadership; schools; and literacy, language and communications.

“This is certainly going to help the newcomers become citizens and participate,” Moore says. “It is also going to be the liaison between the community at large and this influx of new people to help them understand one another.”

While Latinos and Hispanics who are recent arrivals to the community are plugging into the coalition, Moore says, a challenge for it will be to connect with those who have lived in the county longer and are better established.

“One of the things they’re going to have to do is engage those Latino old-timers so they have an interest in what the group is doing,” she says.

Before the coalition was formed, Rios says, local Latinos and Hispanics had to go to Chatham, Forsyth or Guilford counties for help in finding basic services.

“Our goal is to have a center where people can come and ask questions,” he says.

To better connect Latinos and the rest of the community, the coalition has co-sponsored several seminars, including one this fall with the Asheboro/Randolph Chamber of Commerce that featured a Latino speaker talking to non-Latino business executives about how to target advertising to Latinos.

The coalition also has joined the Latino Community Development Center in Durham, a statewide group that provides support to nearly 60 Latino sports associations, congregations and community centers throughout the state.

The development center is transforming itself into the North Carolina Latino Coalition, a membership organization that is seeking 501(c)3 status and aims to provide its members with a forum for setting priorities, sponsoring conferences, serving as an advocate, and securing group rates for members on products and services such as insurance.

While the Randolph County coalition this year received $25,000 from Hispanics in Philanthropy, an initiative funded by local and state funders whose dollars are matched by national foundations, it aims to begin raising money by recruiting members, Rios says.

Moore says a big challenge will be to enlist more donors.

“In this economic atmosphere, it’s difficult for new nonprofits to get a foothold,” she says. “And while they have some very strong grassroots support, they also are going to need some very strong donor-based support, in addition to grants they may get.”

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