PAINESVILLE, Ohio — An organization that has been providing services and bridging gaps for one of the fastest-growing demographics in Northeast Ohio will soon have a place to call its own. HOLA, a non-profit that provides services and support for Hispanics and Latinos, broke ground Tuesday on its new Hispanic Community Center and Commercial Kitchen, a hub for the organization’s support services, job training offerings, and business incubator.
HOLA, which started 20 years ago as an informal group of Hispanic women in Lake County that wanted to grow the Latino community in the area, purchased a dilapidated, former auto garage on North State Street near downtown Painesville in 2019. After years of planning, fundraising, and soliciting donations and grants, the brick-clad building will undergo a complete renovation that is estimated to cost $2 million.
A central hub for the organization’s efforts is sorely needed as Painesville’s Hispanic population continues to grow. According to 2020 census data, Painesville has more Hispanics and Latinos than all other cities in Lake County combined.
“For many of those 20 years that we have worked with the community, we often struggled. We struggled to find our footing,” said HOLA executive director Veronica Dahlberg, whose parents immigrated from Mexico and Hungary. “We had meetings in some of the most unlikely places here in Painesville. The community of Painesville has grown so much since the late 80s and early 90s. We have some of the schools that are 50% Hispanic. We really needed a home base to expand our programs and services to the community.”
HOLA’s services run the gamut and have proven especially critical during the throes of the pandemic. In totality, HOLA’s services help to weave a safety net of support services for individuals and families that are often excluded from traditional services. The new community center will help improve and expand the organization’s offerings, especially in regards to job training, GED classes, and ESL programs.
“We also do a lot of immigration work, including prepping people for citizenship and uniting people with their families, which has really been our bread and butter as an organization and what we’re really known for,” Dahlberg said. One of the many people to have received support services through HOLA is Esperanza Pacheco-Padilla. In addition to helping to support her cleaning business, HOLA also helped to navigate her through the country’s complex immigration and legal system. Padilla recently earned US citizenship.
“Having this is a dream come true,” Padilla said through a translator. “HOLA is a place of sunshine, a ray of light. I have been with HOLA since the beginning and it has been amazing to have been a part of this organization.”
The $2 million community center, which also features a commercial kitchen space to be used by Hispanic micro-businesses, has been funded through several public grants and private donations from philanthropic organizations. Representatives of those organizations joined city and county leaders for Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony.
“I don’t have words for it. It’s so humbling and so heartwarming to have people like the police chief here and so many members of our community just wanting to show up and support us,” Dahlberg said. “What this center represents is some opportunities for improving educational outcomes for our children and themselves in a space that is a trusted space.”
Construction is expected to be complete by mid-2022.