Imagine being a foreigner and landing in the Genesee County area unable to speak any English. That would be uncomfortable and frightening, to say the least. Fortunately both help and hope are offered by the Hispanic Technology and Community Center (HTCC).
In 2001 the HTCC was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit through federal grants administered by Mott Community College (MCC), which also provides support, technology and oversight. Citizens Bank donated the current building, located at the corner of Lewis Street and Hamilton Avenue on Flint’s east side. Over $220,000 in MCC grants were used to renovate and remodel the building. The sturdy-looking bank building is covered with Hispanic-themed murals on both sides, painted by local artist Armando Fernandez.
According to Ralph Arellano, advisory board member and interim director, “The Center is the all-ages anchor for the east side of Flint, serving a diverse group of children, adults and seniors. Anyone can walk, bike or bus to the center.” All ethnic groups are served.
Now back to the stranger in a strange land. At the center, that person would first be connected with someone who spoke his or her language. Services provided would introduce the person to a community of like-minded people, interpreters, housing referrals, food through the every Wednesday Martus/Luna food pantry and classes in English or Spanish as a second language. Also available to anyone would be health care referrals, Bridge Card help, resume and document preparation, free tutoring and computer training and job search help.
Most important HTCC offers referrals to the Department of Health and Human Services for food or cash assistance, to Medicaid and to Medicare help. HTCC even offers free printing and fax services and will provide rides to voting precincts. In addition, HTCC sponsors community gardens and health and job fairs, with its most recent job fair attracting over 250 people who applied for jobs and job training related to the Flint water crisis. During the water crisis HTCC has been passing out free bottled water, filters, wet wipes and diapers provided by the Diaper Bank through the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
HTCC is especially sensitive to the undocumented, offering translation and legal aid referrals. It coordinates various activities through local churches such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and St. Mary Church of Flint, new organization Latinos United for Flint, El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil and the Center for Civil Justice. On an average day the HTCC helps 30–40 people with all the above-mentioned services. This would be impossible without the help provided by Lennetta Coney at MCC and the many grants awarded by the Ruth Mott Foundation as well as the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
“We must continue the effort of connecting the needs of the people of the community with the services available because the needs are definitely growing.” – Sixto Olivo
All of this is conducted and coordinated by an interim director, the young 80-year-old Ralph Arellano, and his capable mentor/associate Sixto Olivo, an even younger 83-year-old. Arellano was born and raised in Flint and graduated from Flint Central High School, Mott Community College, and U of M–Flint. He is the father of two and grandfather of three, the most recent being 1-year-old Rafaela, named in his honor. Ralph worked for 10 years at the iconic downtown Flint department store, Smith-Bridgman’s. He eventually retired after 30+ years of teaching in Flint and coordinating student teachers at U of M–Flint for 15 years. Arellano has always been involved in community activities, influenced by his father, Ralph Arellano Sr., a founding member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as well as an active member of the local Civil Air Patrol.
Influenced by Cesar Chavez, Arellano became involved in the Spanish Speaking Information Center in 1968 because “the times in Flint required involvement in affirmative action, teacher’s unions and the rights of people. Growing up Hispanic in Flint in the 1940s and 1950s, we were aware of discrimination and harassment at school. We wore long-sleeve shirts so as not to get dark. It was better to be Spanish than Mexican. But Flint was very diverse, especially in the St. John Street/Industrial Avenue area.”
Arellano was appointed to finish a term on the Flint City Council and was elected to a full term on the Flint Board of Education. In conjunction, he served on the Flint Civil Service Commission for over 10 years. Arellano closes by stating, “Even though I’m the interim director here, informally we both run the show,” referring to his associate, Olivo.
Olivo was born in San Antonio, Texas. He has five children and nine grandchildren. In 1941 his family moved to the Imlay City/Capac area as migrant workers. After his Korean War service, Olivo returned to Flint in 1955.
“It was a brand-new experience coming from a migrant worker community to Flint where it was gratifying to be a part of a diverse community that accepted us,” he says.
He graduated from MCC, earned a journeyman’s card as an industrial truck technician and retired from GM as a joint GM-UAW training coordinator. Olivo was one of the founding members of HTCC with Hector Garcia and currently serves on the board. He was asked to be involved in the Hispanic community by Domingo Berlanga because of the many needs present and because of the influence of his father, Juan Olivo.
Olivo concludes, “We must continue the effort of connecting the needs of the people of the community with the services available because the needs are definitely growing.”
The Hispanic Technology and Community Center is located at 2101 Lewis St. in Flint. The phone number is 810-424-3760 and the fax number is 810-768-4027. Its website is currently under construction, and its hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.