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Hispanic initiative grant helps grass-roots efforts

CHARLESTON — This fall, the Sisters of Charity Foundation awarded the Diocese of Charleston a three-year Hispanic initiative grant for $181,000. The use of the money stipulated three areas of focus: immigration services, leadership development, and resource coordination and development.

The offices of Social Ministry, Ethnic Ministries, and Planning and Synod Implementation coordinated the allocation of the money to address the needs of the Hispanic community.

The Office of Ethnic Ministry created a diocesan Hispanic newsletter that was provided to all parishes, and identified Hispanic leaders and other agencies across the state that have contact with Spanish-speaking people. According to Kathleen Merritt, three newsletters have reached more than 3,000 Hispanics in South Carolina and a Hispanic directory is being produced.

The grant also funded seminars about immigration issues and resource held around South Carolina.

Dorothy Grillo, director of Social Ministry, said that 20 people have been trained to assist immigrants through the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Catholic Charities’ immigration services.

“We have also expanded the availability of immigration services with offices in Columbia and Mount Pleasant, with plans to open one in Greenville,” she said.

The money helped provide scholarship assistance for Hispanic youth and adult leadership development, and Mexican consulate training in Washington, D.C., that provided training to people working with Hispanics.

“Working with the University of South Carolina, we’ve provided educational sessions to public officials, business leaders and educators on issues related to migration and immigration,” Grillo said.

English as a Second Language classes were also an important part of the grant, but it was soon discovered that an adult literacy program was needed for people who wanted to complete their high school education. The program is equivalent to the education they would have received in Mexico.

“One of the biggest things we learned when we started out is that we were focusing on ESL classes and found people who really needed basic literacy training first,” Grillo said. “The Mexican consulate provides all the materials and curricula. We had over 50 students attend those classes.”

All of these programs were held at various churches and venues around the state, including the annual diocesan Hispanic celebrations and multicultural exchanges. An after-school homework tutoring and mentoring program was created to work with parents and students at risk of failing in school.

“We are also working to provide specific help for students and translating PTA meetings for non-English speaking parents,” she said.

At the beginning of the grant, Grillo said that the immigration component was clearly spelled out.

“The broader category of empowerment evolved as we became more aware after talking to the Hispanic communities about their needs,” she said. “That’s where there’s been a lot of creativity in meeting those needs and a lot of relationships stemming from that.”

Another important focus for the grant is a domestic violence prevention program, “Helping Families Heal.” Training has already been completed for Hispanic leaders in Greenville, Charleston and Anderson.

“These leaders are using the program with women, men and teens,” Grillo said. “It is an educational program that encourages healthy relationships. We’ve distributed 15 program packets across the state.”

The most recent census stated that there has been a 212 percent increase in Spanish-speaking immigrants between 1990 and 2000.

“Most experts agree that that is a significant underestimate given the large amount of undocumented people in the state,” Grillo said. “Estimates put the Spanish-speaking population at about 150,000. The total population in South Carolina is 4,012,012.”

The new collaborative relationships that have been formed between diocesan departments, a variety of Hispanic leaders across the state, the University of South Carolina and the Mexican consulate have built relationships that will allow the leverage of additional resources to address the population.

“This grant is an excellent example of enhanced collaboration,” Grillo said.

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