By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
A Crescent City nonprofit plans to relocate the English classes and computer stations that it hosts at Smith River United Methodist Church for area Hispanic residents.
Rural Human Services will end its partnership with Rene Quintana, who helps lead a collaboration with other organizations to offer education and financial workshops, among other services, to Hispanic immigrants.
"It's best for our program," said RHS executive director Larry Lakes. "It's wholly our program. It really doesn't relate to him."
The move by RHS has prompted Kelley Nolan, acting director of Del Norte County Public Library and a literacy coordinator with Del Norte Reads, to consider stepping into the space to work with Quintana at the church in Smith River.
"That kind of makes an opportunity for us," Nolan said. "If we can establish even a little bit more of a foothold."
The literacy program aims to teach more Hispanic adults to read and write, complete GED tests and citizenship forms.
"We have such high illiteracy rates," Nolan said.
Quintana works part time for Del Norte Reads, tutoring area Hispanic residents through the literacy program that runs on an annual budget of about $65,000.
"Rene pulls in that community," Nolan said, noting a lack of Spanish-speaking volunteers and tutors. "He already works for us, so it would be a sort of natural fit."
Quintana and RHS have partnered for seven years, building Plaza Communitaria at the Smith River church. The community effort offers language classes, financial workshops and other services for Del Norte and Curry counties' more than 6,500 Hispanic residents. Many immigrants come to work in lily bulb fields and ranches, living in nearby Smith River.
RHS spends more than $30,000 each year on computers, supplies and part-time staff to teach English, Lakes said. The nonprofit plans to find a new location in Smith River to set up classes and a computer lab in the next few weeks and eventually, offer English classes at its M Street building in Crescent City, as well.
But Quintana plans to continue the project at the church, with the same schedule English classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. through the nonprofit Manos Unidas that he is forming.
"We're sorry to see them leave," said Quintana, adding that RHS gave him no reason for ending the partnership. "If any collaborator decides to leave, that's their decision."
English teacher Hilda Yepes-Contreras, a part-time worker for RHS, will continue teaching the classes through the month but remained uncertain about teaching plans after that point.
Yepes-Contreras had aimed to build Plaza Communitaria to partner with other area groups so that the plaza could offer classes on depression, drug abuse, health, nutrition, domestic violence, parenting skills, politics and AIDS prevention. Immigrants often come from rural parts of Mexico and lack any education.
The English classes draw about a dozen participants. Other services attract a steady stream of Hispanic immigrants seeking help and translation with banking and finance processes, vehicle registration, school and other issues.
Smith River United Methodist Pastor Michele Holloway wants to see the work continue at the church that offers free food to immigrants and has hosted the Mexican general consulate to document workers.
"It's a great gift that we can give to the community, the Hispanic community in Smith River," Holloway said of the familiar setting. "What a blessing for us to be able, as a church community, a faith community, to say, We will give you a place of safety to be documented.'"
Nolan suspects that the church setting attracts Hispanic residents who may avoid libraries, commonly seen as academic or governmental buildings.
"Churches take everybody," Nolan said. "If we can provide services where the population is, that would be nice."
A phone call last week from Lakes surprised Holloway, who had budgeted the monthly $225 rental fee that RHS pays for the space. Quintana also pays a $50 monthly rate.
"We are sorry to see them go because we have appreciated the outreach to the community," Holloway said of RHS, adding that she expects to continue working with Quintana and local Hispanic residents at the church. "There is a comfort within the building itself because they have grown familiar with it. That is why it lends itself to having these classes."