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Center Points Way To Jobs
By Walter Pacheco
May 12, 2003
The Community Technology and Enrichment Center is at 9318 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. To register, call 407-384-2929. Classes are free and are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Hispanic adults and students struggling to learn English become frustrated when hunting a steady job or taking school exams.
"I can't possibly find a job that pays well when I can't speak English. Instead, I have to settle with sporadic jobs that can't help pay for the English classes I need. It's very frustrating," said Estela Casas, 33, who moved from Colombia to Orlando four years ago.
Casas' son, Sebastian Vergara, 9, finds himself in a similar situation. The third-grader at Waterbridge Elementary School in east Orange County struggles with English, even though he recently passed the FCAT.
"I have a hard time with my English vocabulary, but I know that I need to improve it so I can get a good degree and don't have to struggle like my parents," said Sebastian, who is in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program at the school.
But help has arrived for mother and son and other Hispanics in the Orlando area.
A Hispanic grass-roots organization is providing computer training at the newly launched Community Technology and Enrichment Center. The training is designed to help adults and students improve their English and to help them land good jobs.
Family-run Latino Leadership and the League of United Latin American Citizens inaugurated their computer lab Thursday at their east Orlando headquarters.
The lab has more than 12 computers, donated by RentWay, that will help users log on to the Internet and search for jobs and housing. The organization is looking for volunteers and tutors.
Marytza Sanz, the president of Latino Leadership, founded in 1999, said the computer lab is only a prototype of services the group will continue to provide.
"This is a much needed service in the Hispanic community. It will help those who can't speak English overcome the digital divide and bring other resources to people looking for work or trying to learn English," Sanz told more than 50 people gathered outside the lab.
More than 33,000 Hispanics -- or nearly 20 percent of the population -- live in Orlando. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the decline in tourism in Central Florida, many who worked in hotels, attractions and restaurants lost their jobs. As the industry slowly recovers, many remain jobless.
The Orlando metropolitan area's current preliminary unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although the department does not track Hispanic unemployment rates in Orlando, Sanz's husband, Carlos Guzman, who also volunteers at Latino Leadership, thinks many still are jobless, judging from the numerous calls the group receives weekly.
"We receive more than 50 calls a week. People can't find jobs because they lack the necessary job skills or don't speak English," he said.
More than 70 percent of children in Orange County's ESOL program are Hispanic, and the numbers are rising. The Orange County School District has a Hispanic student population of 26 percent.
Marucci Guzman, 19, Sanz's daughter and a student at Seminole Community College, volunteers at the center. She said high-school seniors will tutor parents and children in English and help them fine-tune their computer skills.
"This is the first time something like this has been done in our community. We'll have students from Colonial High and University High tutoring the community. It's a great way to build self-confidence," Guzman said.
The Latin League's Central Florida representative, Jose A. Fernandez, said, "Hispanics finally have a place to come and learn from their own people. It's only the beginning." The league helped fund the project.
Orange County Commissioner Mary Johnson, who is Hispanic, said Latino Leadership is helping break down the language barriers in the community that keep residents from finding work.
"It took great vision to create this dream, and the group is at the forefront of helping Hispanics in need," Johnson said.