The Latino community is lagging behind on pretty much every socioeconomic indicator,” explains Andrea Plaza, executive director of Encuentro, the first Latino immigrant resource center in central New Mexico. Intent on changing this reality, three community organizations came together in 2009 to envision a new center where Latino immigrants could feel welcome and access resources and skills vital to their participation in this country.
As one community member puts it, “The Hispanic community needs places where they feel like they are home.” In 2011, Encuentro opened the new resource center in Barelas, a centrally located historic neighborhood in the heart of downtown Albuquerque.
“We see Encuentro as a place to discuss the shared values between immigrants and non-immigrants and build on those conversations to foster dialogue and action,” says Plaza.
Making A Living And A Life
Encuentro provides educational programs and services that address the priority needs of the immigrant community. The organization offers adult education classes, including English language learning, computer training, financial literacy and GED preparation, with a particular focus on mathematics. Childcare is provided onsite free-of-charge, thus eliminating one of the most significant barriers faced by parents attempting to further their education.
In December 2011, Encuentro celebrated the first graduates of its financial literacy program, which was created in partnership with Prosperity Works. Geared for single immigrant moms and their high school aged kids, the program teaches financial skills, as well as creates opportunities for families to save for both the mother’s and youth’s college education through an individual development account (IDA).
One mother shared about the financial literacy program, “I really liked the fact they invited us to work together, mother and son.” And a youth graduate declared, “I learned so many things that will help me in my future.”
Building A Strong Community
“Part of what makes Encuentro unique is that we incorporate information about and conversations around immigrant rights into all of our classes,” says Plaza. “This helps immigrants build skills as well as engage in their communities and become real community leaders.”
Immigration, employment, educational access—all of these topics are on the table for class discussion. Participants learn about community and partner organizations working on these issues and how they can get involved.
When immigrant families have access to educational programs, services and resources, the adults are better equipped to support the healthy development of their children, which enhances the well-being of the entire community.
Plaza is unwavering in her vision for the future. “In order for our state to thrive, we can't leave any populations behind, so addressing the immigrant community is very important. We’re strengthening New Mexico by increasing the voice and engagement of Latino immigrants.”