Hispanic and Latino Center aims to survive after lack of funding

HARRISBURG, Pa (WHTM) – Several non-profits are scrambling to find funding after they were not awarded community block development grants by city council last week. The dilemma also stems from prior city sins and less money to be awarded.

A handful of high school-aged teens were working on fliers for a fundraising gala, trying to figure out a way to keep the Latino Hispanic American Community Center stay afloat financially.

Kimberly Fernandez-Ramos is enrolled in the Leadership Summer Program at LHACC, she is concerned for other teens younger than her.

“I worry about the people that we can help,” she said. “And, we need to help other people. We can do it. But, without the money we can’t”

LHACC is about $50,000 short after missing out on being awarded Community Development Block Grant funding from city council last week. Members dealt out $260,000 to seven non-profits, 13 applied for funding.

City council overrode Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s decision to keep all the money towards proposed city use; vacant lots, demolition, and school resource officers.

Even the non-profits awarded funds received a fraction of initial requests, which were a collective $1.1 million.

LHACC Executive Director Gloria Vazquez Merrick said she lobbied several times and thought the center had a good chance to receive the grant.

“We were shocked,” she said. “We were devastated…because it really hit us blindsided. We really had no idea that our funding would be cut to zero.”

Merrick said city council member Jeffrey Baltimore said there was nothing more that she could’ve done – that his hands were tied. Harrisburg City received $1.8 million of CDBG fund, about $600,000 less than last year.

Plus, Harrisburg’s debt payments doubled in 2016 towards a $3.2 million loan needed to cover HUD violations following the failed David Dodd Capitol View Commerce Center project of 2006.

Merrick understands that the funding was not a guarantee, but said that doesn’t make it any less painful. She said with a staff of four, LHACC serves about 10,000 a year. Often helping many Hispanic and Latino members in Harrisburg acclimate to the country.

“We just can’t do any more than what we’re doing given the amount of staffing we have,” she said.

The need has grown 65 percent since the center opened in 2011, Merrick said. The center helps with educational, healthcare, transportation, housing, and basic human needs among others.

Manny Martinez-Vega, another young man enrolled in the Leadership Program, wants one day to be a police officer. He said LHACC has helped him get the connections needed to further his education after high school.

He is even contemplating a career in politics, understanding that representation for a community is vital in order to retain resources.

“We do a lot of services for people that are in need and knowing that we didn’t get any money,” he said. “It kinda breaks my heart.”

Between Merrick and a handful of eager youth, they’re hoping to rally sponsors to help pay the overhead needed to keep their doors open.

“To get zero, I mean…we’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do,” Merrick said. “It’s still a shock as you can tell — I’m at a loss for words.”

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