Left to right, Aracely Canchola, Willis Francis and Carlos Saavedra, three of the seven board members of the Evanston Coalition for Latino Re-sources, say a recent grant from the Evanston Community Foundation will help the organization grow.

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For their eighth annual health fair, offering resources, information and education to Evanston‘s Spanish-speaking community, the Evanston Coalition for Latino Resources chose Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center rather than St. Nicholas Church, its former home. “It’s a more neutral space,” said ECLR president Willis Francis.

The concept of health in this fair appeared to encompass physical health, mental health and overall well-being for indviduals and families.

Among the organizations represented were Family Focus, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Childcare Network of Evanston, St. Francis Hospital and NorthShore University HealthSystem (Evanston Hospital.) Representatives from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s office, offering information on immigration, also attended.

The fair is important, Mr. Francis said, because too often for Latinos “everything gets in the way.”  The fair provides health screenings and tables for organizations to describe the services they provide to the Latino community.

The City of Evanston has a small number of staff members who are Spanish-speaking, he said, as do a few social-service organizations.

Another ECLR board member, local attorney Carlos Saavedra, said the coalition is growing, having just obtained federal-tax-exemption status as well as a capacity-building grant from Evanston Community Foundation’s “root2fruit” program.

The Evanston Coalition for Latino Resources has grown from a grass-roots advocacy organization into a not-for-profit agency serving Evanston‘s Latino population. Aracely Canchola, ECLR board member and one of its founders, said the coalition arose from her work at the City of Evanston. 

One of the first tasks of the coalition was to identify organizations that provide support services to members of Evanston‘s Spanish-speaking community. Quarterly meetings with service providers also helped identify common problems.

“We all wanted to work together, not each in our own bubble,” said Ms. Canchola. 

Now a social worker at Evanston Township High School, Ms. Canchola says the meetings serve the dual purposes of collaboration and avoidance of duplication of services.

“We meet and share the issues we are seeing and discuss what we can do collaboratively,” Ms. Canchola said.

ECLR is open to all Spanish-speaking or Latino persons, says Mr. Willis, adding that their “largest community is Mexican.”

“We want to be the voice of the community and the people,” said Ms. Canchola.

In addition to the health fair, the Coalition sponsors the annual Hispanic Youth Achievement Awards in conjunction with Northwestern University.

“We try to encourage teachers to look out for talented Hispanic students,” said Mr. Willis. At the same time, he says, “We want to help Latinos see themselves as being able to get into Northwestern.

Even with such hopeful ambitions for Latino students, Mr. Willis says some have little chance for academic study beyond high school. “Some kids are undocumented, so they will have no access to scholarships or student loans. These are kids who have been here all or [nearly] all their lives. If you’re undocumented, it doesn’t mater if you’ve been here 10 years, 20 years, 30 years – unless you receive amnesty,” he said, adding, “We need immigration reform.”