Saturday, April 2, 2011

Guest blog: Proposed Pa. budget cuts would hurt services to Latinos

My name is Theresa Conejo and I am president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of Bucks County.The Alliance is a non profit 501(c)3, community service agency located in Bristol Boro. It was established 1993 by a group of dedicated activists who recognized the language and cultural barriers encountered by Latinos when trying to obtain needed information, programs and educational services, as they struggled for advancement and empowerment.

Our mission is to is to provide culturally sensitive and bilingual services to the Latino families in Bucks County. Our services include the development and implementation of programs that address those of preventative health, education, and social issues identified by our Latino residents as critical to their future and the future of their children. All our activities promote responsible social behaviors, educational success, and self-sufficiency.

As you may have seen from the 2010 Census results, the Hispanic/Latino population is the fastest-growing minority group in the state.The Latino population grew by 82.6 percent between 2000 and 2010, an increase of 325,572 people. Latinos now account for 5.7 percent of the state’s population. Here in Bucks County, the population has doubled, with Bristol having the largest concentration of Latinos.

Our agency provides bilingual assistance to the growing Latino population, helps them with the necessary life skills they need to be self sufficient and to be able provide for themselves and their families. We offer a variety of programs: English classes, citizenship classes, computer classes, after school program and summer camp for working parents,bilingual health workshops and health fairs, courses on handling your finances, home ownership, starting your own business,obtaining employment and much more. We have a Mother's Club, Senior Citizen Bingo Club, teen dance and the Fit Kids Coalition that is addressing the problem of childhood obesity.

Our case managers are available daily to help clients with such things as information dissemination on affordable housing and shelter placement, help with filling out forms and paperwork for school,employment, medical forms, makes appointments for our non-English-speaking clients and seniors.We guide families to the proper agency that can assist them with their needs.We also are the sole, primary resource agency for all other agencies, government offices and businesses in Bucks County on issues concerning Latinos.

Our agency relies heavily on HSDF Funding to provide these services. Now with the proposed budget cuts and elimination of HSDF Funds, will will not be able to provide these services and may even have to close our doors. Last year we served 2,140 case management clients, the year prior we served 3,040.With the current economic climate we expect to see an even higher total this year. All the more reason why HSDF funding needs to be continued. Our families and children depend greatly on these services, their lives are at stake if this funding ceases.

Latino Alliance is also home to a Head Start program.The proposed spending plan preserves state resources for pre-K, Head Start and child care, but cuts the funding for full-day kindergarten through the elimination of the Accountability Block Grant.We are deeply concerned that many of our Head Start students will not be able to benefit from full-day kindergarten programs when they leave our pre-K. Like pre-K , full-day kindergarten is a proven investment. Pennsylvania school districts with full-day kindergarten demonstrate a greater rate of improvement in reading achievement than districts with part-day programs. Research also indicates that children who attend full-day kindergarten experience fewer grade retentions, require less remediation and make more successful transitions to first grade.

So ask you to help me by calling or writing our elected officials to find a way to provide funds to allow HSDF to continue to help agencies like mine and other similar agencies in Bucks County and Pa. to continue with their successful, proven programs.

Theresa Conejo is a registered nurse and resident of Bensalem, Pa.

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