MILTON — A building which has stood dormant since 2001 is set to re-open this summer as a resource center with a focus on educating both Spanish- and English-speaking community members.
Adalberto and Juanita Santiago, who serve as pastors of Congregacion Menonita Shalom in New Columbia, said they moved to the Milton area 14 years ago. Adalberto had been working as a police officer in Puerto Rico.
“We brought our family to this town,” Adalberto said. “It was a safe town to raise children in.”
Twelve years ago, the Santiagos worked with the late Pastor Joe and his wife Maggie Rosa to establish the church in New Columbia, the first Hispanic congregation in the area.
Ten years ago, Adalberto said he began eyeing up the vacant Hotel Milton building on North Front Street, realizing it would be the ideal location to open a social services center.
Five years ago, the Santiagos said they became pastors of the church in New Columbia. For the past three years, Edwin Ocasio and his wife Beatriz Pagan have been attending Congregacion Menonita Shalom.
“The pastor and Edwin were talking about dreams,” Patricia Gonzalez, the church secretary who also serves as an interpreter, said. “Edwin told the pastor about his dream. It’s to have a formation of a social services center. That’s where this all began.”
In February, the Hispanic Community Center House of Refuge, of which Ocasio and Pagan are administrators, purchased the former Hotel Milton, with plans to turn the building into a community resource center.
Adalberto said plans are for the center to open sometime this summer.
“Our inspiration is to be able to establish the community, to bring life to the community,” Ocasio said. “To bring life to the community through social services.”
The church members said they have been greeted with open arms by everyone with whom they have shared their vision of the center.
“It’s a testimony,” Ocasio said. “The places we have gone so far, to speak about the community center, they have been very interested in helping us with our needs.
“It’s not only for the Hispanic community, it’s for everyone,” he said of the center. “It’s for all the community to become united. One of the ways to do that is through education.”
While plans are to grow the center in years to come, the church members said education will be a focus of the offerings.
“We are going to have a center of information,” Ocasio said. “We will have a high school diploma program, for people who want to complete that.”
Translation services will also be offered for individuals who speak Spanish and need help with appointments
“For the community (members) who want to learn to speak Spanish, we can help with that too,” Ocasio said.
“We want to be a community to help every member, no matter where you’re from or the language you speak,” Adalberto added. “We are creating this (center) to remove all the walls and impact the community in a positive way... We are blessed with the opportunity God has brought to us.”
Plans are for the center to also offer citizenship information, as well as transportation services, a food bank and clothing for those in need.
Juanita dreams of seeing the center offer programming to help battered women, women in need and professional women looking for new career training opportunities..
“We see new businesses coming to this area, we see economic growth,” Adalberto said. “We see a safe, better community... We want to work with the youth, children.”
The Hispanic Community Center House of Refuge will host its first event, “There’s Hope for our Youth,” at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 20, in the center’s parking lot at 101 N. Front St.
The event will be moderated by Pastor Jose Marquez, from New Jersey, and will feature Puerto Rican singer Chiiklo and Philadelphia-based singer Peace to the Puzzle.
Ocasio said donations are needed to help with renovations to the hotel building and for the center to be able to carry out its work. Donations can be sent to: Hispanic Community Center House of Refuge, 101 N. Front St., Milton, PA 17847.
For more information on the center, contact Ocasio at Ocasioedwin8@gmail.com or 570-980-0353.
Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.