Latin American Coalition offers diverse services

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Angeles Ortega-Moore joined the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte six years ago as its executive director, the nonprofit agency employed one other person and operated with a single phone in a one-room office.

Today, serving over 13,000 clients a year, the agency employs 10 people full-time and two part-time, and operates with over 12 phones in an office spread over two floors.

To help it cope with rising demand for services in the county with the largest Latino population in North Carolina, the Latin American Coalition will receive $200,000 in unrestricted funds over two years from the Bank of America Foundation to boost internal operations, including upgrading its technology.

“The capacity of a nonprofit is really the cornerstone to provide better services,” Ortega-Moore says.

Formed in 1990, the agency operates with an annual budget of nearly $1 million and counts on over 100 volunteers a year to help provide services ranging from assistance in buying homes and starting businesses to education, advocacy, leadership development and referrals to basic information and services.

With an estimated 80,000 Latinos, Ortega-Moore says, Mecklenburg County in 2004 was home to 12.8 percent of North Carolina’s Latino population, the most of any of the state’s 100 counties, according to a study by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Latino enrollment in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools totaled 12,360 in 2004-05, the most of any school system in the state and 10.4 percent of total enrollment in the system.

The economic impact of the county’s Latinos totaled nearly $1.36 billion in 2004, by far the largest among the state’s counties.

Latinos also represent an estimated 10 percent of the 60,000 newcomers who have moved to Charlotte in the past year, Ortega-Moore says.

Working to address the needs of the growing population of Latinos in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the surrounding region, she says, the Latin American Coalition over the past three years has tripled in size.

The agency provides a broad range of services that aim to help Latinos overcome language, economic, educational and cultural barriers, and offers opportunities for the community to better understand and connect with the Latino population.

In the 12 months ended Sept. 30, for example, the agency helped 58 Latino families become homeowners for the first time, allowing them to establish roots in the community, Ortega-Moore says.

Working with families that want to own homes, the agency assesses their finances and develops a financial plan, including consumer education, a budget, and an outline of the responsibilities of the agents for the seller and buyer.

Using a software program that analyzes their finances, the agency also works to match clients with lenders, including Bank of America, Wachovia and the Self-Help Credit Union.

It also helps Latinos open roughly 10 businesses a month, and offers three 10-week classes a year to teach English as a second language.

Partnering with Central Piedmont Community College and UNC-Charlotte, the Latin American Coalition sponsors a Latino youth group that aims to engage young people in community service.

It also offers training to prepare emerging Latino leaders for civic activities like volunteering in schools, running a neighborhood cleanup or working to change their communities.

The coalition also hosts an annual Latin American Festival that in October attracted 25,000 people, and it is a partner agency with United Way of Central Carolinas, providing information-and-referral services for Latino residents.

Another key focus for the coalition is advocacy work, ranging from registering voters to educating the community about immigration and the challenges Latinos face on issues like college admissions.

“One of our goals is to truly have a meaningful dialogue with our community around the issue of immigration,” Ortega-Moore says. “The regular individual in the street doesn’t really understand how the whole system works and the need for immigration reform.”

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