Serving the growing Hispanic community in the Chattanooga area

Serving the growing Hispanic community in the Chattanooga area

November 10th, 2011 by Perla Trevizo in News

Stacy Johnson, executive director of La Paz Chattanooga

Stacy Johnson, executive director of La Paz Chattanooga

Hamilton County School Board member George Ricks

Hamilton County School Board member George Ricks

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

A group of health care and nonprofit representatives tried to connect the dots with four lines without lifting their pencils and to match proverbs from different countries - all with the goal of thinking outside the box.

Representatives from La Paz Chattanooga and United Way's Center for Nonprofits held a workshop Wednesday for organizations seeking to engage and market to Hispanics in the area.

There are about 15,000 Hispanics in Hamilton County, according to the U.S. census, although La Paz estimates there are more than 20,000.

The key in serving this community, according to Stacy Johnson, executive director of La Paz, is cultural competency.

"Knowledge, awareness and sensitivity are important," she told the group.

When George Ricks, community outreach coordinator for the Southside/Dodson Avenue Community Health Center, first started reaching out to the Hispanic community, he thought everyone spoke Spanish, he said.

But most of Chattanooga's Hispanics are from Guatemala, where more than 23 Mayan dialects are spoken.

Ricks, also a board member of the Hamilton County Department of Education, said he wants to learn more about the Hispanic community to better serve them.

One of the challenges, he said, is getting everyone to understand not only the differences but also the similarities between American and Latino cultures.

La Paz used games and a panel to answer questions about best practices and challenges in serving the Hispanic community, which represent more than two dozen countries and different education and income levels.

The goal, Johnson said, is to develop a network surrounding Chattanooga's Hispanic community.

"We know we're not able to completely serve this growing population," she said. "It is part of our vision and mission to educate the entire Chattanooga community on the Latino population and the importance of cultural competency when trying to reach and/or work with this diverse population."

Debbie Bramlett, with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area, said the nonprofit has tried to reach the Hispanic community but hasn't been successful.

"I'm not sure what we are doing wrong," she said.

La Paz's advice is to have staff who are bilingual and bicultural.

"We hope, that through seminars, we can give organizations the tools they need to join us in empowering and engaging Chattanooga's Latino population through advocacy, education and inclusion," said Johnson.

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