By: Gregory Joy
At the intersection of multiculturalism, community outreach, religion, and Athens lies a small nonprofit with a big heart. This organization, Casa de Amistad, seeks to address the needs of Athens’s Latino community and assists over 300 Latino families each year. On Wednesday September 23rd, the members of the Spencer Frye Fellowship team visited Casa at its home in Milledge Avenue Baptist Church. During this visit, Alex Borges, the non-profit’s executive director, detailed his organization’s operations and discussed how the Fellows can collaborate with the Latino community in Athens.
When we first arrived at Casa, we saw children happily playing outside on jungle gyms. Although these children presented a carefree picture of the local Latino community, we were reminded that appearances can be deceiving when Borges informed us of the many challenges faced by Latinos. In particular, Borges highlighted the obstacles Athenian Latinos encounter in terms of English language skills, job opportunities, and obtaining U.S. citizenship. Although such challenges may seem overwhelming, Borges told us that the Latino community is committed to overcoming the social, economic, and political barriers that it faces.
Casa helps the Latino community confront its problems by offering educational, vocational, and charitable services at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church. For starters, Casa uses the church’s classrooms to offer English language classes to Spanish speakers of varying fluency levels. In addition, the nonprofit focuses on professional development, helping its Latino clients create resumes and learn about gaining access to the workforce. Finally, although Casa is already undertaking a Herculean task by providing language and professional development assistance, it also provides translation services, food assistance, child care, and advice on obtaining citizenship.
Education is one of Rep. Frye’s priorities, so our fellowship team was excited to see such a great learning resource being made available to Athenian Latinos. However, as Borges told us, there are some problems that Casa’s educational initiatives are not well suited for addressing. For example, Borges said that many undocumented Latinos don’t know what rights they possess, with this making them fearful about interactions with law enforcement. Such fear means that undocumented Latinos often refrain from reporting crimes when they are victimized. In order to mitigate such a problem, Borges recommended that Athens work with members of the Latino community to inform them about their rights and about how they should interact with law enforcement officials. In addition, Borges would like to see Athens recognize the valuable contributions that Latinos make to our community, and he hopes that such recognition will help Latinos become fully integrated into the fabric of our community.
All in all, our fellowship team was thoroughly impressed by the services and training that Case de Amistad provides to the local Latino community. We saw how this small nonprofit has an outsized influence in the lives of those to whom it caters, helping Latinos become better citizens, workers, and members of the broader Athens community. It is our hope that Casa de Amistad, and other Athens organizations like it, will continue to thrive and provide valuable contributions to the well-being of the Classic City.