Spanish American center, former leader chart new courses

Spanish American center, former leader chart new courses

Cecil, Andréa Maria


In his seven-and-a-half years of leading the York Spanish American Center, Alex Ramos became the public face of the organization. He also became the public face of Central Pennsylvania’s Hispanic community.

That time has ended.

Ramos’ last day at 200 E. Princess St. in York was June 22, shortly before the center’s board decided it wanted to “take the center in a different direction,” a gloomy Ramos recently said during his first interview since leaving the nonprofit center.

Abe Amoros, chairman of the center’s advisory board, said the center’s board of directors asked him not to comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue. Amoros also is spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

With Ramos’ departure, the center’s board voted for the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Association of Latino Organizations Inc. (PALO) to provide interim administrative support for the nonprofit center.

Margaret Barajas, PALO’s president and chief executive officer, is the center’s interim director.

“Shortly, we will be providing (the center’s board) with the plans for long-term recommendations for sustainability,” she said. “We anticipate that in the next four to six months, the board will be able to undertake a search for a qualified candidate.”

Within the same time frame, PALO will complete an organizational assessment of the center to determine what it needs and how it can best serve the Hispanic community, Barajas said. The evaluation will include a review of the center’s finances, she said.

“In PALO’s work in communities – including York, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Reading, Chester, Erie – the general needs of the Latino community are essentially the same,” Barajas added. “These are folks who have come here looking for a good and decent place to live.”

Every strong Latino center offers English as a Second Language classes, GED classes, after-school programs, senior programs, as well as informational and referral services to help connect Latinos with nonLatino organizations, she said.

While the center’s search for an executive director will focus on Pennsylvania, the rest of the country will not be ruled out, Barajas said.

The board hopes to name a new leader as soon as possible and ensure the center gets the level of financial support it needs to survive, Amoros said.

“The Latino community is very fluid,” he said. “It’s important that we stabilize the center as quickly as possible.”

There were 15,347 Hispanics living in York County in 2005 – nearly a 36 percent increase from 2000, when there were 1 1,296 Hispanics living in the county, according to the Census. Most Hispanics are concentrated in York.

Nationwide, Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority population.

“I think it’s a vital organization for the community because of the increase (in the population) and the tremendous need of the Latino population,” Ramos said of the center. “Almost 70 percent of city Latino residents (meet) the poverty guidelines. It’s a very essential organization for the future – not only for the Latino community, but the city itself.”

He added: “I wish the center the best, I do. I wish that they could find someone with strong skills to take the center to the next level and be able to pull the Latino community together.”

In terms of his own future, Ramos said he is weighing his next steps.

He has job offers in other states but would like to remain near to his children, who live in the county, he said.

“I’m evaluating the whole process of what is best … not only for me, but also for my family,” Ramos said.

And, at the moment, the man who once represented all things Hispanic in York County is unsure whether he will seek a job similar to his former post at the center.

“That’s my passion, that’s what I love: helping anyone. They don’t have to be Latino,” he said.

Doris Martinez, who co-owns Doris’ Place on 437 S. Queen St. in York, first met Ramos roughly five years ago and now considers him a close friend. Ramos used to eat a7:30 a.m. breakfast at the eatery nearly every day before he left the center.

“When we first opened the restaurant, he would take off his jacket and start taking orders,” said Martinez, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Eddie. “He can help the community because he’s a person who knows how to help.”

Helping is what motivates him, Ramos said.

“I love that,” he said. “But I’m not sure what my next step is going to be.”


Copyright Journal Publications Inc. Aug 24, 2007

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