In 2004, Ana Torres arrived in the United States. Twelve years later, she signed up for ESOL classes (English for speakers of other languages) and enrolled her 3-year-old daughter Allison in the school-readiness program at Sacred Heart Center. The classes helped Ana become more confident speaking English in everyday life. Tasks like shopping for groceries, visiting the doctor, and communicating with Allison’s teachers weren’t as stressful.
Allison’s experience was even more impactful. Before coming to the Sacred Heart Center, the preschooler hadn’t had much contact with other children, and she didn’t know the alphabet or colors. Once she enrolled in the morning program, she made friends. Her mom said Allison counted the days until she would go to her class. After moving on to Head Start at her local elementary school, Allison continued to visit the Sacred Heart Center, and Ana says the teachers helped her daughter enjoy and appreciate learning.
“I am very thankful for the school-readiness programs at the Sacred Heart Center. It truly helped Allison make the transition into preschool in Richmond,” said Ana. “Because of the program, she was more independent and more prepared for school.”
The Sacred Heart Center, a community center in Manchester that was founded in 1990, is one of the few organizations in the Richmond area dedicated to serving the Latino population. In fiscal year 2015-2016, the Sacred Heart Center enrolled 500-plus students in core educational programs and served more than 6,400 community members through various partnerships with service providers. Its mission is to create a hub for the Latino community in the Metro Richmond area that opens pathways to social and economic integration, family success, and community leadership.
Executive Director Tanya Gonzalez says the Sacred Heart Center is a place where families can find a place to belong. “Whether it is coming to our classes, events, becoming a volunteer, or receiving needed assistance, our environment is that of a community and we are creating an empowered community,” said Gonzalez. “On Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the Sacred Heart Center, the family literacy program, one of our signature programs, fills the building with the sounds of children and adults learning in tandem. It’s a beautiful sound!”
The Sacred Heart Center offers core educational programs for children and adults, as well as a variety of health and human services through partnerships with area organizations such as the Bon Secours Care-A-Van, Bainbridge Food Ministries, United Way, and others. The core educational programs for the Latino community throughout RVA include ESOL classes, GED preparation in Spanish, citizenship classes, basic Spanish language literacy, introductory computer classes, and parenting classes in Spanish. For children, the Sacred Heart Center offers a Latino leadership program, a college and careers program, summer camp programs, and a school-readiness program for children under five.
According to Gonzalez, the Sacred Heart Center is a trusted organization that has become a community hub in Richmond. This is evidenced by the fact that many nonprofit partners work with the facility to provide services such as food assistance, medical care, mental health counseling, academic and training programs, consular identification services, legal assistance, and tax assistance to families and individuals.
“As a small nonprofit, the Sacred Heart Center is responsive to the unique and changing needs of the community with programs designed to fill gaps in services and open opportunities for those eager to advance themselves and their families,” said Gonzalez. “As Latino families succeed, they help to build a more prosperous and healthy Richmond metro area.”
Beyond receiving these needed services, Gonzalez says families learn how to navigate the service systems. “It’s important for families to build their own skills for future use in accessing services and finding the help they need,” said Gonzalez. “Additionally, the Sacred Heart Center hosts service provider meetings that connect area agencies for networking and information-sharing opportunities in the Latino community.”
As for Ana, she is committed to building her own skills in the RVA community. She is enrolled in the Sacred Heart Center’s GED preparatory classes and becoming more proficient in English through ESOL classes. Her goal is to finish her GED and to enroll in a dental assistant program.
“The people and programs at the Sacred Heart Center have helped my family so much,” said Ana. “I am grateful for everything we have learned there and will continue to learn.”