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Hispanics 'don't feel they belong'

March 09, 2006|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Hispanic population of Franklin County is increasing rapidly, and human service agencies must learn how to assist and educate the newcomers.

The Franklin County Forum addressed Hispanic issues Wednesday at its monthly meeting at Chambersburg Mall. About 75 representatives of various human services agencies in Franklin County attended.

Franklin County Head Start director Kim Holtry said the Hispanic population in the county has increased 33 percent between the 1990 and 2000 censuses.

The local Head Start, which helps to prepare 3- to 5-year-olds for kindergarten, works with 18 Hispanic families and "should be serving more," she said. "It isn't just the language barrier, it's how we perceive them and how they perceive us. We need to be approachable."

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A four-member panel addressed how the Hispanic population in Franklin County may be assisted.

Many misperceptions are the result in differences in culture, several panelists said. Keith Brandon of Spanish English Translation Providers (SET) mentioned the numerous arrests for drunkenness and/or DUI among the Hispanic population.

"They're walking down Main Street drunk. They do that in their country. Here, they get picked up," he said.

He wants to see a newsletter to educate the Hispanic population about the community.

Brandon also spoke about complaints he hears in the community about Hispanic men hanging out on the street.

"It's part of their culture to hang out on the street," he said. "Many of them work second shift and they're waiting for their ride to work. Or they just have no yard to hang out in."

Fany Brandon is an interpreter and translator with SET. "Hispanics work here and pay taxes here but don't feel they belong here," she said. "There's a gap between the Spanish- and English-speaking communities.

Fany Brandon was an interpreter at Keystone Health Center for five years and is certified as a medical interpreter. She teaches an evening Spanish class at Penn State Mont Alto and works with the Hispanic community in Greencastle, Pa., and Waynesboro, Pa.

"The Hispanic population is skyrocketing in Waynesboro and they are falling between the cracks," she said. "It's up to you to give us ideas."

Diane Martes of the Chambersburg Hispanic Center - "the first stop for Spanish-speakers when they get here" - runs an after-school program for Spanish-speaking 10th- and 11th-graders who want to go to college. Two of her "graduates" are in college.

While she acknowledges that some Hispanics break the law, "there is no law in their countries. We need to educate them." She arranged with The Salvation Army in Chambersburg to allow Hispanics who are looking for work to eat lunch there.

Aerli Breese of Cross-Systems in Chambersburg is in charge of helping people between the ages of 18 and 59 access and navigate the system and to advocate for them. She provides both Spanish speakers and English speakers with Information about services. Breese also belongs to the parenting coalition, and teaches a parenting class in Spanish for the E.S.C.A.P.E. Parent-Child Center.

Breese added she has noticed that the Welfare Office and the Housing Authority are making more of an effort to help the Hispanic population, "although the private sector moves faster than government agencies."

Change is slow, but it is happening, Martes said, citing the fact that a bilingual female police officer has been hired in the borough.

Pregnancy Ministries center director Kathy Gilbert and volunteer Sharon Swartzentruber attended the forum. Gilbert said 20 percent of her clientele last year was Spanish-speaking, an increase over the year before.

The ministry does not have enough bilingual volunteers, Swartzentruber said.

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