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Hispanic Resource Center in Mamaroneck Survived Irene With a Little Help From Their Friends

Hispanic Resource Center moves back into their renovated digs after Tropical Storm Irene caused flooding.

When Hurricane Irene blasted Mamaroneck in August, the (HRC) was eager to do what came naturally: get in gear to help people in need. But the organization’s headquarters are located in the Mamaroneck River floodplain and water filled the building, destroying almost all of the group’s possessions.

Last week, the resource center celebrated its reopening, three months after the devastation, with a breakfast to thank members of other organizations in the community that opened their doors to the center.

The cozy, completely renovated rented digs on Mamaroneck Avenue have a new car smell and a bright feel. From the kids’ nook in the reception area to the main classroom/activity center/workers hiring hall in the back room, the center is re-energized.

Except for one wooden table, which has cracks at its base due to water damage, all the furniture, computers, walls, floors, carpets and other fixtures are completely new.

“Most people have no idea how badly we were hit by this flood,” said Zoe Colon, executive director of the HRC. “In addition to three months of programming and fundraisers, we lost a lot of valuable cherry wood pieces donated to us over the years. We got a grant for desks, chairs and filing cabinets, so we’re going with metal now.”

Though the center had to shut down many programs, with a little help from their friends, Colon and her staff still distributed emergency flood relief in Irene’s aftermath and kept other important services going.

The housed English as a Second Language (ESL) and adult literacy classes. , a mental health clinic in Mamaroneck, offered staff offices and a conference room. (CAP) hosted training sessions and the center’s Youth Leadership/Civics Education program met at the .

"It was an easy decision to make,” said Linda Bhandari, program coordinator at the library, which waived its room use fee.  “It was a little something we could do. We always like to help out the local non-profits.”

The center used space at the to hold confidential counseling sessions and proceed with its flood relief efforts by handing out new mattresses to 36 families along with food cards to local supermarkets and gift cards to electronics outlets, said Colon.

But in addition to canceling a health fair in September, the center had to forego its main fundraising gala, usually held in November, or, as they put it in a brochure, their fiesta took a siesta.

The gala usually raises $100,000 in crucial donations, though a direct mail appeal brought in about half as much, said Colon, allowing the center to cater to its constituency, which consists mainly of Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants.

Programs are wide ranging, and include literacy, social services, workforce education, including domestic worker training, Occupational Safety and Health Administration programs (scaffold safety workshops, among others) and youth events. The majority of the 3,500 people who take advantage of the center’s help are adults in their 30s and 40s who have not completed elementary school, said Colon.

“We have 10 new computers and teach classes all the time,” said Colon. “If you’re 50 years old and you’ve never used a computer, we have a class for you.”

Though the center remained largely out of commission for three months, there’s a renewed sense of urgency to get back up to speed.

“It’s hard to understand how intense and damaging this was for the agency,” said Colon. “But thanks to all the people who donated space and time, we’re going to be able to surpass what we’ve done in the past.”

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