Hope CommUnity Center
In the 40 years Sister Ann Kendrick has been working to support immigrant communities in Central Florida at the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, this is the worst it has ever been, she says.
A sense of fear permeates the community. After the election, a group of about 100 kids who gather at the center reported racial slurs and bullying at their schools. Some people have already packed their suitcases as they anxiously wait to see what executive order President Donald Trump signs next after ordering a U.S.-Mexico border wall and threatening to take away federal funds from sanctuary cities, among other actions. Kendrick says some children have come to the center crying, including an 8-year-old boy who was afraid his undocumented mom would be deported.
"He was afraid his mother would be taken away because then who would take care of him," Kendrick says. "People ask us what we're going to do, and I tell them, 'We're doing what we always do, except the stakes are higher. We have to ratchet up.'"
Kendrick, Sister Cathy Gorman and Sister Gail Grimes came to this area in the 1970s to help farmworkers and the working poor in the community. Decades later, they have set up two centers in Apopka where they provide a litany of services, including literacy classes, GED help, school tutoring, citizenship classes, youth groups and other resources for immigrant communities.
Kendrick says now Hope CommUnity Center is working on two fronts to address what will possibly come down from the presidential administration. First, they're teaching people to know their rights when stopped by the police, and also, they're creating "safety and dignity" plans for undocumented immigrants.
"Everybody, documented or not, is being caught up in this anti-immigrant attitude and scrutiny because some see immigrants as hostile and not adding to the fabric of our country," she says. "We're teaching them how to behave if you're stopped by law enforcement, which is usually for driving without a license or can be racial profiling, and explaining to them what to say, what not to say, what can be incriminating."
The center is also helping undocumented immigrants put together "safety and dignity" plans consisting of medical records, school records, bank information, power of attorney letters, prescription information, letters from the community and other records that would be helpful to have readily at hand in case of detainment or deportation. Kendrick says community members who care can start assisting at the center by helping people put together their "safety and dignity" plans or by donating money to help a family in need. She adds that people can also help out by becoming tutors at the center and by letting the immigrant community know they have allies in the fight.
"We can help by creating community," Kendrick says. "We're a safe place where people can come and be introduced to a bigger world. Now is the time to step up." – MC