Four years ago, at the height of what some describe as the 2014 American immigration crisis, CLINIC affiliate Hope CommUnity Center stepped up in a vital way.
As Central American unaccompanied minors flooded into Apopka, Florida, the organization, commonly known as HCC, created the Adelante Caminantes Program to provide legal and English help. However, as time went on, HCC noticed that more meaningful support was needed as these children worked to make a new home for themselves. The program then expanded to offer hot meals, counseling, academic assistance and other life skills.
Adelante Caminantes is free to participants, which HCC resources through donations and community support. It primarily serves young people ages six to 18, with some students enrolling up to the age of 21. Most have traveled from Honduras and Guatemala, with enrollees from Venezuela steadily increasing. Currently 80 students attend classes each week, and approximately 150 students have gone through the program.
Classes though Adelante Caminantes are run by local volunteers, most of whom have been or are teachers. The English language program is divided into four separate levels based on the student current skill level. The youngest children are enrolled in a separate class more appropriate for their age group. HCC also offers support in financial literacy. Specifically, the center shows participants best practices for money management and how to create and follow a budget.
Perhaps most importantly, Adelante Caminantes’ students receive mental health support. Many of these children came to the United States under extreme duress. Some often continue to suffer from the stress of their journey and from past traumatic events that occurred in their home countries. Through mental health counseling sessions and group conversation, participants talk about their experiences and the paths that lead them to the U.S. HCC aims to help them do more than cope, but overcome the trauma they have experienced.
That goal is also vividly expressed in the translation of the program’s name, “Onward, Walkers.” By acknowledging and dealing with the difficult things they have overcome, this program is also equipping them to create a better future for themselves.
Serving this audience has not been without challenges. It was particularly difficult to bridge the gap between a mostly unreceptive community and the unaccompanied minors HCC was serving. The organization was viewed at first to be harboring these young people, which lead to resentment from the receiving community. However, HCC was able to leverage their longstanding positive relationship with its Florida neighbors. The center engaged volunteers and educated the community, which eventually lead to increased community support.
CLINIC applauds Hope CommUnity Center for creating a program that provides unaccompanied minors the support they need to be able to adjust to their new lives in the United States.
To learn more about the diverse programs Hope Community Center offers, visit www.hcc-offm.org/.