News Column

Nuns Leading Hispanic Center in Hampton

June 13, 2013

About a dozen women learned how to plant tomatoes in containers this past week at La Luz Hispana, one of many classes offered since the center opened March 27.

With help from interpreter Samantha Kohls, Dennis Carlson of Iowa State University Extension in Franklin County went through the process step by step.

La Luz Hispana translates as "the Hispanic Light."

"Our larger umbrella is education and a safe haven for people to come and feel welcomed," said its director, Sister Carmen Hernandez.

Hernandez is a 1976 graduate of Columbus High School in Waterloo. She also studied at the University of Northern Iowa.

She pursued the idea of opening such a center through previous work at Mercy Family Medicine Residency program.

Beginning in 2008, Hernandez traveled to Hampton once a week for two years, helping with a pregnancy clinic for Hispanic women. Through the work, she got to know some residents.

"They told me it would be nice to have our own place here," Hernandez says.

Hispanic residents make up 21.5 percent of Hampton's population, according to the 2010 census, and Hernandez surveyed what they would like to see in a center. She also visited a similar operation in Sioux Falls.

"I knew that's what I wanted to do," Hernandez says. "We decided to open right here in Hampton. We already had the relationships built."

Sister Maura McCarthy joined the initiative after visiting Hampton. She had recently returned after 33 years in Bolivia.

The center is at 116 First Ave. NW and offers a variety of services and classes. Some have included English lessons, morning exercise and computer skills. A session with an immigration lawyer drew a packed house.

Carolina Gaytan moved from Texas 16 years ago. She says the center was needed.

"I think it's a very good idea. It's very helpful. Some of the Hispanic people don't know how to go about something, and they can get help here," Gaytan says.

The center's leaders hope to offer whatever residents need but would particularly like to find a lawyer willing to work pro bono or to accept small payments because of potential immigration reforms on the horizon.

"We'd like to help get the paperwork done and done right," McCarthy says.

Hernandez and McCarthy want La Luz Hispana to be a welcoming place to gather. They note the center is available to more than just Roman Catholics.

"Our biggest thing is our door is always open," Hernandez says. "We can be a light for the Hispanic people."


(c)2013 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

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Source: Copyright Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (IA) 2013

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