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A hand up for Latinos
Group pursuing La Esperanza Community Center
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Pastor Cesar Buitrago wants to offer hope to those struggling in today’s economic climate.

Buitrago - along with a nucleus of several dozen Latino community leaders in Manteca - are working to establish a Latino community center.

But unlike the traditional community center format that typically connects people to government programs; the organization dubbed “La Esperanza” - or hope - wants to connect people who are willing to give of their talents and times to help others.

The group is conducting a complimentary breakfast on Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Main Street Café, to share their vision for La Esperanza Community Center with Manteca’s Latino church and business leaders. Information on the breakfast and center can be obtained either from Buitrago at 624-0840 or Aldo Gamez at 471-9464.

“All we are looking for is a small office with a desk, telephone, and a computer,” Buitrago said.

Gamez, who owns Pro-Touch Automotive with his wife Donna, noted that the concept is to ask people if they can donate two hours a month of their free time to help others.

Buitrago told of a teen at Manteca High that was approached to see if he’d be willing to give of his time. He said said he was willing to do so but didn’t know what he had to offer. After some questions, the teen shared that he was proficient at pool cleaning.

“He (the youth) could give two hours helping someone with pool cleaning and in turn he could benefit from someone else providing him with a couple of hours  a month of training in auto mechanics (such as with Gamez),” Buitrago noted.

The concept is based on how many communities networked long before the advent of government programs. Buitrago added that it emphasizes taking personal responsibility to essentially give people a hand up instead of a hand out.

The concept has been embraced by the Christian church community that serves Spanish speaking residents in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon including Crossroads Grace Community where Buitrago ministers through Amigos de Cristo.

The end goal is to provide “opportunities which can equip (Latinos) to face their daily challenges with dignity and a sense of purpose.”

Gamez and Buitrago said the Latino community in Manteca needs:

•A place where they can connect with others.

•A center to help them find the resources they need.

•A center that can link them with the greater community and essentially assimilate.

•A center which can provide a social platform for Latinos to express their culture, their gifts and talents, and can equip them to serve others.

La Esperanza wants to provide emergency services, connect Latinos with existing organizations and churches, provide family education program running the gamut from English as a second language and after-school tutoring to sports and nutritional programs, and train leaders who can serve within the community.

The decision to secure office space away from churches was to avoid creating a barrier as some people may be uneasy associating with a church-housed group.

In addition to working to secure office space, another initial step of the group is to establish a directory of community services available to the Latino population.