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El Barrio seeks to empower Cleveland-area Latinos

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

El Barrio 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 population.

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 Children 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 available openings.

“We’re bringing them closer to opportunity and we’re bringing employers close to qualified, diverse candidates,” explained Ms. Angel.

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 job.”

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 Jobs doesn’t.”

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,” she said.

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.


Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05/13/14 19:55:36 -0700.




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