Julia Rodriguez has a dream for the Harbor Gateway Center, a 5-year-old private, nonprofit corporation that provides social services for the predominantly low-income Latino residents in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles near Gardena.
"It is my dream that the center will provide a full array of services to the community," Rodriguez, the center's director, wrote in a brochure. "From services needed to counteract the hardship of poverty to specialized programs for Hispanic immigrants, such as ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, to educational workshops to equip community members with the knowledge to protect and defend their neighborhood through legal and governmental means.
But Rodriguez's dream may fade away before it has a chance to materialize.
The center--located in a worn, two-story building on the grounds of the 95-year-old Gardena First United Methodist Church on West 165th Place, just east of Vermont Avenue--is broke. It faces an Oct. 15 deadline to raise at least $1,500 to carry it through the following month. "Unless we get some funding by Oct. 15 we will have to shut down," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, director of the center for the past two years, is trying to survive month to month until long-term funding can be arranged. About $25,000 is needed annually, most of which goes for her salary and utilities. She is the center's only full-time employee.
Services have already been reduced at the center to cut costs. Rodriguez, who had been getting paid for 30 hours a week, is now paid for only nine, although she is putting in the same hours as before.
A paralegal at the center who had been providing free legal information, now has to charge $15 a visit to help pay her expenses.
"I used to be able to give people free copies of legal forms, but now I have to tell them to make their own photocopies because we don't have the money to do it," said Lita Lee Medina, the paralegal. "And if people don't have the $15, well, I tell them that maybe they can pay next time.
"This office is badly needed. Unfortunately, Latinos are very sensitive about whom they trust, especially if they don't speak English. They seem to respond to me. I would hate to see this office close."
The center has served as a distribution center for surplus cheese and butter, Rodriguez said, and for the collection of food and clothing for the area's needy. The center also helps residents find emergency temporary housing.
A free day care program for children of working parents never got off the ground because of a lack of money, Rodriguez said, and paid tutors who had been helping elementary school children after school are no longer available because there is no money to pay them. Translation services for everyday problems residents have with banks, governmental agencies and schools are all but gone, and janitor service had to be cut off.
Phyllis Tyler-Wayman, pastor of the Gardena Methodist Church and chairwoman of the center's board of directors, said the church started the center and donates the use of its building. Although few of the residents served by the center are members of her church, helping provide social services for the community is part of the church's ministry, she said.
Tyler-Wayman said she is confident the money can be raised.
"If the people see the center as a value, then I think they will come through," she said. "The people who are served by the center, unfortunately, are unable to contribute any money. We have to convince everyone else that helping these people affects the entire community."
She said the national headquarters of the United Methodist Church has provided the center with $25,000 grants each of the last two years. However, she said the money was considered seed money to help establish the center, not operating funds that would continue.
Tyler-Wayman said the center has asked for a $10,000 grant from the church's national headquarters, and has applied for grants from other social service agencies, including United Way. She said she does not expect a response from the church or the agencies until later this month.
Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores' deputy for the Harbor Gateway, Tad Isomoto, said he has met with Tyler-Wayman and said he is attempting to help find grants from the city's Community Development Department or another source.
"Everything that I have heard says that they are doing worthy things," said Isomoto, who added that he has been on the job for only three months and is still familiarizing himself with the district.
The Gardena Department of Recreation and Human Services, which provides similar service for Gardena residents--Vermont Avenue separates Gardena from the Harbor Gateway--is also assisting the center in identifying potential sources for grants from the private sector.
Eugene Painter, who oversees Gardena's Human Services Department, acknowledged that his department and the center often serve people from each other's areas, and said Gardena would feel the pinch if the center closes down.
"It's fairly substantial, what they do," Painter said of the center. "That is a notoriously under-served area. If it was closed down and they stopped providing services, I think the slack would have to be picked up by this department. Even though they are not Gardena residents we would not turn them down."