LAA presence in northwest Georgia grows in 2020
Eva Rodríguez, LAA director of northwest Georgia, leads the organization's efforts from the Dalton-based outreach center.
As director of the LAA’s outreach center in northwest Georgia, Eva Rodríguez has found herself an invited participant in many virtual and in-person meetings over the past six months. She’s met non-stop with city and county officials, school administrators, business and civic leaders and other community stakeholders. “For me, it’s being present in the conversations,” says Rodríguez.                                         

The LAA opened an outreach center in northwest Georgia in May 2019 with the support of Mohawk Industries. The outreach center, which has a full-time bilingual staff of four (plus four interns from Dalton State College), is located on Mohawk’s campus.
Dalton’s population is 49% Hispanic, one of the highest in Georgia. In Whitfield County, where Dalton is located, 36% of residents are Hispanic, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Whitfield County was one of the state’s hot spots during the COVID-19 pandemic this summer, and the Hispanic population was hit hard. The LAA played a key role in educating the Latino community on COVID-19 prevention, using its connections to flooring industry executives, local leaders and the networks Rodríguez has developed to facilitate conversations about access to testing, funding prevention efforts and the challenges that Latino students are facing with virtual learning.
“We’ve had to teach our community new skill sets,” Rodríguez says. “We’ve had to do a lot of education. And we have been a consistent voice for Latinos during the crisis.”
The work done by staff in northwest Georgia has enhanced the LAA’s visibility and credibility in the region. With many Latino families being left out of the pandemic safety nets, people are looking to the LAA to fill the gap, explains Rodríguez.

 The Dalton outreach center has received about 1,500 calls since mid-March, with people inquiring about rental assistance and asking for help to apply for SNAP and Medicaid, as well as looking for referrals for other services. 

“There’s no agency here in northwest Georgia like the LAA, so people are looking at us for answers and guidance,” says Rodríguez.
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LAA seniors continue to socialize despite distance
Participants in the LAA’s Senior Club have found a way to connect virtually in a meaningful way every week.
For years, participants in the LAA's Senior Club (“Club de la tercera edad”) have met every Friday at the LAA for fellowship and other activities. But over the past six months, due to the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this group has found solace by connecting every Friday via Zoom.

Club members María Elena Belloso and Venezia Villalobos have missed their in-person meet-ups, which typically include a Zumba class, meals to celebrate birthdays and holidays, and even theatrical performances put on by the club members themselves. However, they continue to do much of the same except through a screen.

For Belloso, this club has provided her with an opportunity to converse in Spanish and exercise with friends, despite being confined to her home. Over Zoom, seniors share stories of their families and what they did during the week. They also get some movement in their weekly routine by taking a Zumba class. During September and October, the participants have been celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, focusing on a different country each week.  
Belloso has become a ray of sunshine for her community, despite the sorrow that this era of quarantining has brought. “My health is well, but everything has been very sad,” she says. “I am not able to leave my house, but I still try to help people.” Belloso loves to help those in need and this club is one way she feels like she is making a difference. Despite the challenges of staying inside, she has connected with a community to which she can relate.
Villalobos, for her part, found the LAA in the yellow pages over 20 years ago when she was looking for translation services. When her children and grandchildren no longer needed her at home, she began attending club meetings. Villalobos made friends in the group right away. The Senior Club, she says, has given her a space she desperately needed during the pandemic, a place to find people to confide in and where they all care for each other.  
“I helped raise my grandchildren, but they’re all grown now and they don’t need me as much,” Villalobos says. “In this group we all care for each other. When someone isn’t in class, we are worried, and we make sure that our friends are doing OK.”
Dear friends,

As we round out Hispanic Heritage Month, I think about how Hispanics are diverse in so many ways – ethnicity, place of origin, jobs we do, cuisine, culture and much more. In Atlanta, this diversity is showcased on Buford Highway, the bustling corridor the LAA is fortunate to call home. It’s also reflected in the presence of Latino families and businesses in cities, towns and communities all across the state.

I feel nostalgic for the times we used to spend together. The warmth inherent in our cultures is hard to show through a Zoom screen when we’re used to greeting each other with hugs and kisses. That being said, there are many virtual ways to engage with us this season. Our 2020 Latino Prosperity Conference, presented in partnership with the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is taking place tomorrow, to wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month. On Oct. 29 and 31, Georgia middle school and high school students are invited to our newly virtual Latino Youth Leadership Conference. While Latin Fever Ball will not take place during Hispanic Heritage Month this year, we hope you’ve already saved Dec. 3 to join us for our virtual gala to celebrate “¡Somos Georgia!”, or “We are Georgia!” I look forward to “seeing you” at one of our upcoming signature events.
Until next time,
2750 Buford Highway, NE
Atlanta, GA 30324
308 North Clayton St.
Lawrenceville, GA 30046
508 E Morris St.
Dalton, GA 30721