Claudia Caballero began working as the executive director of Centro Hispano de East Tennessee in July 2016, just a couple of days after moving here from Texas. She hasn’t slowed down since.
Both a community center and a clearinghouse for information, the not-for-profit is physically located in a rambling building on the John Tarleton Campus off Sutherland Avenue. Centro Hispano was founded in 2005 to serve a growing international population. When Caballero joined, she found an organization in flux, one that was reimagining its vision, particularly in light of how best to serve a relatively young and fast-growing area Latino population.
Born and raised in Honduras, Caballero works with a client base that comes from at least 20 different countries. For many, indigenous languages, not Spanish, are their first language. Programs include information and referral services; adult education programs; and children’s education programs. With the help of funding partner the United Way, the organization has been assessing the community’s biggest needs. Access to healthcare, particularly preventative care, is a huge need, as is access to behavioral health care information. Those who call or come into the center may also need help interpreting information they’ve received about their wages, their rental agreements, their medical records and much more. From such questions often come ideas for other micro-programs, Caballero says.
“If our community wants something, we can create it.”
English as a Second Language is the adult education program with the most impact. It is also the most intense: Four nights a week, two hours a night, for six weeks. Child care is provided. There is also a smaller literacy program and plans to reinstate a GED program.
Children’s programs have the potential to change the actual future of the community Centro Hispano serves, Caballero says, and much effort is concentrated there. A grant from Dollar General provides help with morning programs for children who are not of school age. For many, it is their first experience away from their immediate extended family. Using a United Way grant, the organization has after-care programs at elementary schools in Lonsdale and in Norwood. There is also a pilot program to teach life skills at Fulton High School.
Centro Hispano always needs volunteers, and you don’t have to speak Spanish to help. Caballero needs mentors willing to work with teens. She is also looking for hands-on board members, with a special need for those with marketing and communications skills. The organization has never had a consistent donor base and is starting to target efforts there as well.
The small staff all began as volunteers.
“The team I have now is amazing,” Caballero says. “But I’m responsible for hiring them,” she adds with a laugh. “I’m a young leader. I’m very open to learning and improving everything we do. We haven’t grown as fast as other organizations have grown, or as our community has grown.”
Caballero and her husband, who works in Oak Ridge, resettled in Knoxville after Austin, where they were living, became too big.
“We wanted to move to a place where you could make a difference and feel it,” she says. This job certainly affords her that. “The satisfaction of seeing people grow and knowing you have contributed to that – that’s amazing.”
Info: 865-522-0052, [email protected] or www.centrohispanotn.org.