“Nueva Esperanza,” directly translated, means “New Hope” in Spanish. For 20 years, Nueva Esperanza has been giving hope to the Hunting Park community in North Philadelphia.
Founded in 1987, The Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia started this empowerment center, wanting to address serious issues, such as poverty and crime, within the Latino community. As the needs of the neighborhood grew, Nueva Esperanza matched those needs with new services and structures.
Christina Morales has worked for Nueva Esperanza for four years.
“We have helped families directly and indirectly with the programs that we offer,” she says. “We are unique in that sense. There is no other program that is doing that directly with the Latino community.”
Today, the heart of Nueva Esperanza stands at Fifth Street and Hunting Park Avenue. The headquarters offers job training, credit counseling, low-income housing placement, general education degree, or GED, classes and a CareerLink center.
This faith-based organization also includes a charter high school and Esperanza College.
Vicente Diaz is the former field coordinator for Nueva Esperanza in Philadelphia. Nueva Esperanza is not just local, it is connected nationally to a subsidiary, Esperanza USA. Diaz says although the organization is starting to grow in other major cities across the United States, the message of Nueva Esperanza is more important than its physical building.
Nueva Esperanza relies on private donations and government-funded national programs to keep providing services in Philadelphia.
One yearly event that helps the organization continue is the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. Located in Washington D.C., this conference brings together Hispanic clergy from across the country and allows them to address their politicians directly about the needs of and concerns about their local communities.
Through its services, Nueva Esperanza addresses many key issues facing the Hispanic community in North Philadelphia. According to Morales, some needs are more immediate than others. “The thing that is most attractive to the community is its unique housing program and also the work-force program that is has,” she says.
That’s why Nueva Esperanza has invested more than $40 million in community development projects. The organization has renovated at least 200 single-family, low-income homes for residents. It has also helped more than 650 families obtain their first mortgage. This achievement alone has put $72 million back into North Philadelphia.
Diaz says once people own their own homes, they begin to take pride in their neighborhoods. “Homeownership brings a positive attitude to the community. Because if you own it, then it’s yours, and if it’s yours, you take care of it.”
But Nueva Esperanza also goes back to the basics. Before residents can have enough money to purchase a home, they need a good job with a steady income. The organization provides extensive employment and job training classes. While services cater to residents with all types of backgrounds, one training program is very specific.
“It focuses on single mothers on welfare that need to begin their transition to work,” Diaz says. “They are referred here by their caseworker, and here they receive computer training in Excel, Word, and they’re trained on how to speak in an interview, how to dress and proper work etiquette. Things that will prepare them to better compete in the job world.”
The basic system of job programs includes a 16-week training curriculum, a three-month job placement service and six months of job-retention support.
So far, Nueva Esperanza has succeeded in job placement for close to 1,000 of its clients.
But, before homes and careers comes education. Diaz says Nueva Esperanza sees education as a necessity within their community. Funded through the organization, adjacent to the headquarters, stands the Nueva Esperanza Academy Charter High School. It opened in September 2000 with 200 students and now has grown to 700 students.
According to school officials, students are required to wear school uniforms and must adhere to strict rules and discipline. While they study almost the same subjects as any other high school student in Philadelphia, these students have individualized learning plans and can enroll in bilingual classes.
Another component to the Nueva Esperanza education is its Esperanza College, a branch campus of Eastern University. The college offers a two-year program, with majors in business, communications, and early childhood development.
Esperanza College has a unique approach in terms of language skills. Since many of the students speak Spanish or English or maybe even a little of both, Morales says Esperanza College tests each student on their language proficiency level and then assists the individual students, through classes, to improve their English fluency.