OCHO is more than meets the eye

The Ohio Hispanic Coalition (OHCO), a non-profit organization that provides extensive services to the Hispanic/Latino communities, has moved, but they still call the Westside home. As of January 2007, OHCO relocated from the Westland Mall to their new home, 3566 Sullivant Ave., Suite 203.

Crystal Merida, Program Coordinator at OHCO, said the move just makes sense.

“OHCO needed a location that allowed the youth space for activities and sports, to feel and be safe and secure. This will allow the youth to focus on their academic studies without being disturbed,” said Merida.

The new building is located next door to La Voz Hispana, a Hispanic newspaper, and in the same building as Columbus Public Health office, which is a convenience for those who need those services as well.

Merida also states that the new space is much larger than what they had previously and they have more flexibility with their hours and their ability to expand their services.

According to Merida, one of the problems with the Westland Mall was the sounds of people walking and talking through the mall. Sounds would echo and disrupt classes or other business being conducted, which Merida is happy to note is no longer something OHCO has to deal with.

“It’s very comfortable, whether you’re there for a class or medical screenings or just to stop and get information,” said Merida.

The OHCO gets their funding through a series of grants. For instance, they receive funds from the governor’s Office of Highway Safety as part of a program that informs the community on the importance of car seats and booster seats for children. OHCO educates people on the laws regulating child restraints.

“We have workshops and trainings on safety that allow us to install the seats properly, demonstrating with the parents and then it’s theirs to keep. The seats are provided to Hispanic/Latino families who are unable to purchase one on their own, based upon availability,” said Merida.

OHCO also receives similar grants from Central Ohio Breathing Association and Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation. Merida said health care of the Hispanic/Latino community is a very well funded concern. OHCO recently established a STAND team with all Hispanic/Latino youth.

One of the programs addressing dual concerns coming up soon is the Ohio Hispanic Coalition’s Back to School program on August 17; it focuses on health and safety while providing back to school supplies to Hispanic/Latino families.

Families that sign up for this program can expect different workshops to be available to them, such as a diabetes screening, blood pressure screening and vision exams, courtesy of Wal-Mart.

“The families that go through the different health and safety sessions then are provided with back to school supplies for their children,” said Merida.

Some of the other programs that OHCO provides include an after-school program, Soy Latina (a women’s support group) and VOCA (an education and advocacy group for victims of domestic violence).

Some of the activities and programs of OHCO include how to open a checking account, interpretation services, fire prevention courses, HIV/AIDS programs and summer camp, just to name a few.

Merida says in the future they plan on offering more activities including a self-defense courses.

OHCO also has a fully functioning computer lab available for educational use by the Hispanic/Latino community. This includes uses such as English as a second language learning, job readiness skills andbasic computer use.

Funding for the computer lab is provided by one of the largest and oldest national Latino organizations, LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) through AT&T.

“It is important to know that all of OHCO’s trainings, workshops and events are conducted in Spanish. Something that no other organization does,” says Merida.

Merida would like more people to just know the mission of OHCO – which is “To improve the well-being and quality of life for all Hispanics and Latinos through advocacy, education, training and access to quality services” – and to know OHCO is here.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of us and that we’ve been serving Ohio for 17 years; and we’re not going anywhere,” said Merida.

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