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January 14, 2009 > Local Heroes (continued)

Local Heroes (continued)

By Monica L. Barbara
Photos By courtesy of Bill Mancebo

On December 11, 2008 Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico recognized contributions of citizens in the Assembly District who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and generosity in their service to the community.

"Local heroes" include the Reed family of Fremont, Paddy Iyer of Union City, Harold Colon of Newark, Cossette Sun of Castro Valley, Ed Mullins of Hayward, Ray Maglalang of Milpitas, and John McWilliams of Pleasanton.

In addition to the local heroes awardees, Centro de Servicios was named the Community Partner Local Hero, Eden Housing was named the Non-profit of the Year, and Dr. Bhupinder Bhandari was given the Unity Award.

In our fifth of a series of profiles of these illustrious people and organizations, TCV focused on learning about the accomplishments of Union City's Centro de Servicios.

Centro de Servicios (Union City)

Centro de Servicios has been an integral part of the Union City community since its initial founding in 1974 by Jaime Jaramillo, Richard Valle, Frank Roesch and many others. Since then Valle has become a member of the city council and Roesch a superior court judge for Alameda County; Centro has closed and reopened its doors. Through it all, co-founder and Executive Director Jaramillo has been there.

Jaramillo officially took over the staff of Centro after it reopened its doors in 1996, after what has proven to be a long-standing partnership with Union City's police department was forged. Because of its historical presence and role as the premiere social services agency in Union City, Centro has become a fixture of the Union City community, aiding those in need during their most difficult times. Says Jaramillo, "We are established in regards to the community. They know where we are."

Among the many services the organization provides are a food distribution program, legal aid, assistance obtaining health insurance, and immigration services. The latter service, alone, requires the full-time attention of one staff person who assists clients with applications for citizenship and status changes. Cursory services provided by the organization include providing translation for mail, ESL classes, literacy classes and a senior group that meets Wednesdays.

Another key piece of the organization is their thrift store, a second-hand store that sells, for a minimal price, items donated by the public. Profits from the thrift store are used as emergency funds for clients. Says Jaramillo, "that money goes back into the community to pay for bills or [provide housing] for homeless people."

Centro was initially established to provide services to the Hispanic community, which was the dominant demographic in Union City's Decoto District in the seventies. Today the agency's mission "to help needy Tri-Cities residents secure the services necessary to live happier, healthier and more productive lives" applies to a wider audience. While the majority of clients remain Hispanic, says Jaramillo, "Now we serve everyone. Throughout the years demographics have changed, but [the] needs are the same."

Those needs are especially prevalent during the current economic times. "The economy has created a lot of needs for people in our community...alcohol and domestic violence increases, [and] a lot of new people [are] coming through our doors," says Jaramillo.

When Centro reopened in 1996 it served 2,000 people in that year alone. Today, the organization serves 10 to 12 thousand clients a year, an impressive feat for a full-time staff of only six. Centro relies heavily upon volunteers, a core of about 20-25 and a number of others that pass through to fulfill high school graduation requirements or community service fines imposed by Union City. Of the volunteers, Jaramillo says they, "really provide a great service to us. We could not do it without them."

Jaramillo considers the greatest achievement of Centro thus far to be keeping its doors open to those in need and partnering with Union City. "We depend on grants and the help of the City of Union City," says Jaramillo, "Maintaining that relationship has been the greatest achievement."

Maintain is precisely what Jaramillo plans to do. His future goal: "to keep Centro alive, keep Centro doing what Centro does best, serve the community. We want to maintain that presence in our community."

Jaramillo notes that the historical existence of Centro has created a dependency in the community for the services they provide and believes Centro's responsibility is to continue fulfilling that need. And what of Jaramillo and the other Centro staff? The field of social services has rarely produced millionaires. Says Jaramillo, "We're never going to see [a] million dollars. The personal reward is worth every penny we don't see."

Centro de Servicios
525 H Street, Union City
(510) 489-4100

Services provided:
Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thrift store open:
Thursday - Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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