is nearing its 25th anniversary as a nonprofit
organization aiming to assist and empower many of the Cleveland
area’s unemployed and underemployed—particularly its Latino
The organization has evolved over time and merged with other
nonprofits—now a part of a larger workforce development effort
in the Greater Cleveland area. In fact, El Barrio has become the
job training arm of The Centers for Families and Children,
which has 18 neighborhood locations across the metro Cleveland.
“We do focus primarily on minorities and we have a specialized
program for Hispanics,” said Ingrid Angel, El Barrio
executive director. “It’s a program for monolinguals held in
Spanish that no one else in the state of Ohio has.”
El Barrio is located in the main Center for Families and
on the west side of Cleveland, also the site of highest
concentration of Latinos in the state of Ohio.
El Barrio offers caseworkers, instructors, career coaches, and
retention specialists—many of whom are bilingual. 55 percent of
El Barrio’s client base is Hispanic, including those who
participate in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.
The free English
classes are aimed at acculturation and social inclusion. The
program addresses reading, writing, comprehension, listening,
and speaking. 559 participants studied ESL in 2012.
The agency’s mission is to deliver “disenfranchised populations
with culturally-sensitive supportive services and employment
training, to ensure a smooth transition into the workforce, and
attain personal and family stability.” Immigrant and refugee
populations are also clients.
Approximately 40 percent who participate in workforce-related
programs are Latino. The nonprofit organization’s budget comes
from a combination of government contracts, United Way
funding, private foundations, fund-raising, and donations.
“What is important is to be able to identify and address
barriers to employment,” said Ms. Angel. “In-house, we have the
ability to address all of those issues, from behavioral health,
general health and wellness, youth-early learning programming
(daycare), food centers, crisis management, family
programming—all of that here on site.”
El Barrio tries to be “culturally relevant” in its job readiness
programming, offering four separate components: general job
readiness, job readiness in Spanish, and certificate programs in
hospitality and customer service.
“We know that people who are looking for employment have a
reason why they are unemployed,” said Ms. Angel. “We want to
identify and attack that reason, so that when they can find
employment, they can also retain their employment.”
More than 35 employers partner with the agency to provide
training and recruit its trainees for jobs. Marriott, Home
Depot, banks, MetroHealth hospital, and other partners use their
hiring managers to teach classes of less than 20 people. It also
serves as a good way to screen potential hires right in the
classroom, saving employers time, effort, and money—many of whom
single out “star pupils” and encourage them to apply online for
“We’re bringing them closer to opportunity and we’re bringing
employers close to qualified, diverse candidates,” explained Ms.
El Barrio has operated primarily on government contracts with
Cuyahoga County for about a decade, which Ms. Angel stated gives
its programs stability and its clients much better opportunity.
El Barrio was founded in 1990 by
Dr. Nelson Bardecio as a stand-alone,
non-profit corporation after numerous discussions with Hispanic
community leaders, mainstream political and religious leaders,
and social service providers. But the organization, soon after
opening, became associated with the larger and
better-established West Side Ecumenical Ministries (WSEM). The
two groups merged in 2004, with El Barrio refocusing its efforts
on workforce development. WSEM provided an array of services,
which allowed the combined nonprofit to offer a holistic
approach to helping Latinos.
In 2011, El Barrio and WSEM were absorbed into
The Centers for Families and Children.
“We do not send people out with a bunch of referral papers—we
can handle all their needs in-house,” said Ms. Angel. “We
co-located with health and behavioral services, with early
learning services. Our food center is just down the street. We
have the capacity here to address many of those barriers we
identify in our clients. Ultimately, those are the same barriers
that keep people losing their jobs or not finding the correct
El Barrio doesn’t have to advertise its services; word-of-mouth
brings clients to its doors every day, especially after hearing
the success story of a friend or relative. Ms. Angel even calls
the agency “the best kept secret in Cleveland.”
The agency won’t even refer a client to a job unless they’ve
spent at least two weeks in its programming. Follow-up to see
how they’re doing can last as long as six months. Work ethics
and good work habits are emphasized; clients even have to clock
in and clock out every day. Absences won’t be tolerated without
a written excuse. The training day runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and
includes workshops, computer labs, and classroom speakers from
the likes of Dominion East Ohio Gas, the Cleveland Clinic, TJ
Maxx, or the construction trades.
“We do not want to refer them to jobs simply by polishing their
résumé,” said Ms. Angel. “We want to provide them with knowledge
and resources to impact them and help them to find the right fit
and retain those jobs. We provide services that Ohio Means
If a recent job loss has left a client dealing with depression,
there are even therapists on site who provide free counseling.
Clients are checked on at least monthly over a six-month period
“to ensure their stability and on the road to self-sufficiency,”
The rest of the agency’s clientele she described as “a
wonderful, diverse mix of Clevelanders”: veterans, unskilled
labor, as well as “skilled and educated people who hit a bump in
the road,” among others.
The success of the agency lies in “what its clients get to know”
as well as who El Barrio’s staff gets to know in the employer
community. In fact, El Barrio
placed some 253 people in
jobs in 2013 alone– more than a person employed per week day.
“One of the highlights of who we are is our employer community
network,” said Ms. Angel. “We have 35 to 50 employers who we
work with on a regular basis for instructional purposes. There
are 80 to 100 companies who contact us on a daily basis. From
those calls we develop wonderful relationships.”
El Barrio’s executive director explained that it’s not uncommon
for clients to take a field trip to visit a call center as far
away as Solon to learn the life of a call center rep in person
through the Marriott Global Reservation Center or to don an
orange apron and walking the aisles of Home Depot “in search of
a teachable moment in customer service.”
El Barrio takes an active role in Latino causes, such as the
National Council of La Raza (NCLR),
the largest Latino advocacy and workforce development
organization in the country, which recognized El Barrio as the
2012 Midwest Affiliate of the Year and as a best practice
model in training. El Barrio also is an active member of the
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which
named the agency one of its national technology centers and
awarded it with two computer labs.