A leading organization in helping the Latinx community in McDowell County has a new executive director.

Recently, Kathy Arriola, 22, of Marion, was named the executive director of the Centro-Unido Latino Americano (CULA) nonprofit organization aimed at supporting the Latinx community and anyone in need of services.

“I work to find grants and bring money in so we can use it to get the word out that we are here, and get more services for those people who need them,” Arriola told The McDowell News.

The mission of CULA is to promote the development of a healthy, inclusive, empowered and equipped community to create a fairer society through the participation of the Latinx community and the development of core leadership capacity. CULA envisions a world where all people are aware and able to receive health services, food, transportation and other services from its community regardless of their demographic features.

“It’s important to mention that CULA is not only for the Latinx community, but for anybody that needs food, help or other services can come here,” said Arriola.

The Latinx community includes anyone who was born or a descendant of Latin America, from Mexico all the way to South America. Many of the services CULA tend to help with are translation and communication issues.

“I get a lot of translations,” said Office Manager Carla Lopez-Cervantes. “A lot of people get letters from schools or medical bills and statements and they can barely speak English. I will call these offices and also ask them to send them letters in Spanish. A lot of people just have questions.”

CULA services are free, and many times they invite in other agencies to perform certain services at a greatly-reduced cost. MANNA Food Bank distributes food every other Friday at the First Presbyterian Church in Marion.

“We try to make it as affordable and accessible as possible,” said Lopez-Cervantes. “Some cases are more sad. There are a lot of really difficult cases and there is only so much we can do. We can’t give any legal advice, and that’s usually what they ask for.”

Arriola and Lopez-Cervantes are both of Latin descent and see first-hand the struggles the Latinx community faces every day. They both have a passion to work for their community and their culture.

“The Latinx community has really great needs,” said Lopez-Cervantes, “and we need more advocacies. With the political atmosphere we are living in right now, it’s very difficult and we need a lot of help. Overall, we’re here to help provide a safe space.”

“Both of my parents came here and didn’t know a lot of English. They had to learn on their own, and they don’t know about the services that are out there,” said Arriola. “A lot of people, when they come from Mexico or other countries, they start working in fields at 13 or younger, and that’s all they know. They didn’t get to really go to school either. We have come across people who can’t read or write in Spanish, so we like to help them. A lot of the Latinx community struggle with substance abuse and domestic violence. Some people run away from their country because of family issues and domestic violence, and with us, they have somewhere to come. This is why we are here.”

Everything is confidential at CULA, and many times the people that come just need an ear to listen to their story.

“I think it’s a form of therapy when people come here they just want to talk and let their feelings out because where else are they going to be heard if no one can understand them,” said Lopez-Cervantes. “I care about my people and if I don’t do it, no one else will. I always see my parents in the clients I get in, and I say, ‘what if they were my mom and dad?’ and I do everything I can to help them. It’s very dear to me.”

CULA also works with the Latinx youth from the local high schools to engage involvement within their community. The group support’s community events, forums and even sponsors Dia de Muertos festival every year in downtown Marion.

“We want people to come and see what we are about, and experience another culture,” said Lopez-Cervantes. There is a Latinx presence here whether you see it or not, and we have been her for a long time. And we are here to stay.”

The CULA office is located at 79 Academy St. at the First Presbyterian Church of Marion. Their phone number is 652-0727. For more information, email them at info@centrolunidomcdowell.org or find them on Facebook. They also have a website at www.culawnc.org.

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