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Advocate's skills translate into help for Hispanics.

Byline: Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of weekly profiles of agencies supported by United Way of Lane County, to coincide with United Way's annual fundraising drive.

COTTAGE GROVE - Well before she started working for the Community Sharing Program, Carolina Hernandez often jumped in and interpreted for Spanish-speaking people when she saw they could use it. At the grocery store, the doctor's office, while working for Wal-Mart, she willingly offered her services.

"I've been doing that for years," said Hernandez, 37. "It feels good to help people."

So it's only appropriate that now, as the agency's Hispanic outreach advocate, she can put to use the skills gained by growing up in dual cultures.

She enjoys the surprised look on people's faces when they see a white woman speaking fluent Spanish, but it's not all that odd, Hernandez said. She was raised in Los Angeles and immersed in Hispanic culture. Her stepfather is from Mexico and she took bilingual classes in school.

Hernandez said she never tires of interpreting for people. Only now she gets paid to do that and to assist Spanish-speaking people in navigating everyday activities such as doctor's appointments and court dates.

She is the third Hispanic advocate for the agency, which began funding the position about a year ago.

The program provides basic services to low-income south Lane County residents with food boxes, utility aid, housing assistance and referrals to other agencies.

The program formed in 1982 after the timber industry took a downturn. At that point it was "neighbors trying to help neighbors," said Nancy Glines, the Community Sharing Program's executive director.

That's still what Hernandez does in her role as a Hispanic advocate, a position she's held for about two months. In the two years since she and her family moved to Cottage Grove to be near her brother-in-law, she has gotten to know many Latinos through church and social activities.

With the birth of her son Daniel Christopher in October, she now has four children who are being raised bilingual. Her husband, Alberto, speaks only Spanish. "He likes it because he gets the services, too," Hernandez said.

It's important that clients be able to trust her, because often she will be the one person they know who can tell them what is going on, such as during court proceedings, Glines said.

According to the 2000 Census, about 5 percent of Cottage Grove's population of 9,010 was Hispanic.

Last year the agency received $12,539 from the United Way to fund the advocate position part time. It is asking for an increase to $18,000 this year to make it full time. Glines said demand for Spanish-speaking services has increased, and she hopes Hernandez will bring in more clients as she becomes more familiar with her job.

"There are a lot of families that go without. They go without because the cultural barrier and language barrier is so great," Glines said.

CAPTION(S):

Carolina Hernandez, who speaks fluent Spanish, is an outreach advocate for Hispanics in Cottage Grove's Community Sharing Program. The Register-Guard
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 7, 2005
Words:516
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