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May 4

La Comunidad Hispana Continues its Legacy of Service

A community can truly thrive when all of its members are healthy, and for 43 years, La Comunidad Hispana has been working to achieve that goal for the people of southern Chester County.

La Comunidad Hispana, which is Spanish for ‘the Hispanic Community,’ is a nonprofit organization that is committed to providing health and social services for the communities it serves.

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Laura Mackiewicz, director of community engagement, said LCH said LCH was originally founded in 1973 by local churches, mushroom farmers and community members as a way to help meet the needs of immigrants moving to the Kennett area.

She said LCH has changed over the years, but its core messaging remains the same. LCH has been at its current location in Kennett Township since 2009; LCH also opened a second health center in Oxford in December 2015, she said.

LCH’s mission is “to help low-income residents of southern Chester County to stay healthy, build strong families and lead productive lives by providing high-quality, culturally welcoming services.”

LeeAnn Riloff, director of development, said LCH is both a community health center and a social services agency.

Some of the services LCH offers include: primary care, such as physicals, immunizations and an on-site prescription center; preventive care and treatment for chronic diseases, like diabetes and high blood pressure; acute care for minor injuries, aches and pains; mental health counseling and referrals to specialty care, such as dental and vision; as well as women’s health care, such as examinations and screening for breast cancer, family planning, pregnancy testing and counseling, and prenatal and postpartum care.

LCH offers multiple services all under one roof, and the kind of care LCH provides is similar to the kind of care a patient would get from a primary care provider, Mackiewicz said.

Riloff said LCH’s services are open to everyone, and they accept private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and offer low-cost care with payment plans for people who are uninsured.

LCH also offers social assistance services such as: health insurance applications, connections to community resources and referrals, food assistance and other public benefits, case management, and consultation with a licensed attorney; as well as free education and jobs programs, including: ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, citizenship classes to prepare for the exam, and assistance with resume writing and job placement.

All of LCH’s services are offered in English and Spanish, and most of the staff are bilingual and multicultural. “Our staff are from all over, every Latin American country,” Riloff said.

“We’re open to everyone, but a lot of low-income families may be from another country that speaks Spanish, so to really provide that comfort level, we want to make sure we’re serving in their native language,” Mackiewicz said. “If you don’t feel well or you’re scared or you’re nervous, to think you have to express that in a language that’s not yours is really hard to do.”

She said LCH’s ESL and citizenship classes help with immersion and getting people to be more comfortable with the area.

“To continue to grow and be a part of the community, you do have to learn English and get accustomed to some pieces of transitioning to the United States, but we want to embrace culture and understand what that means to people,” Mackiewicz said.

Last year, 100 percent of the citizenship students passed the citizenship test, Riloff said.

According to statistics from LCH, 90 percent of the people they serve at the Kennett facility are of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Many of LCH’s clients live below the poverty level, and are either underinsured or uninsured. Approximately 50 percent of the people served at LCH’s Oxford facility are of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. LCH serves more than 5,500 people each year through all of its services, Mackiewicz said.

According to 2010 census data, the percentages of people of Hispanic or Latino ancestry in the local populations were: 48.8 percent in Kennett Square, 10.5 percent in Kennett Township, and 28.8 percent in Oxford. By comparison, people of Hispanic or Latino ancestry make up 6.5 percent of Chester County’s population as a whole.

Mackiewicz said LCH recently updated its logo and added the phrase “Life Changes Here” as another meaning for the acronym “LCH” in an effort to make it clear that LCH’s services are open to people of all ethnic backgrounds. “We’re here for everyone,” she added.

The Domestic Violence Center of Chester County has an office at LCH, so patients can also receive confidential counseling and assistance in English or Spanish, in addition to other medical and social services.

LCH also has a workforce development program to help people find jobs in the area.

“So many businesses are looking for bilingual staff,” Riloff said.

Margarita Garay Zarco, director of human resources, education and workforce development, said LCH works to match the necessities of people looking for jobs with the necessities of businesses seeking to hire employees.

She said people who participate in LCH’s workforce development program go on to find jobs in cleaning, maintenance, landscaping, picking mushrooms or working as a supervisor at a mushroom farm, and others have been hired at Santander bank and the Chester County Intermediate Unit.

LCH recently began offering free access to technology at its Kennett location, so visitors can access the internet, and use a printer, copier and fax machine.

Mackiewicz said 50 percent of LCH’s budget needs to be raised through philanthropy because it’s a nonprofit health care center. About 70 percent of LCH’s patients do not have health insurance, she said.

“We need to raise funds to make sure that we can serve the underserved,” Mackiewicz said. “We say a lot here that ‘Our community is only as strong as the most vulnerable,’ so it is our mission to serve all.”

For more information, visit www.lacomunidadhispana.org.

Click here to read the article on the Daily Local.  Follow Digital First Media staff writer Lucas M. Rodgers on Twitter @LucasMRodgers and on Facebook.