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El Centro de Ayuda (The Help Center)

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El Centro de Ayuda (The Help Center)

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The logo for El Centro de Ayuda (ECDA) is an acknowledgement of roots, and a nod to the foundation of the Latino Community. That history dates back to the Aztec culture that flourished from the dawn of the 14th century to the early stages of the 16th century The design represents growth, nurturance and balance, required ingredients for people to realize their full potential. Armed with a pride in the past and an optimism for the future, El Centro de Ayuda is a 21st century center for help and hope.

Yum Kaz, the Aztec Lord of Harvest was chosen for his symbolism of growth. Calli, the Aztec representation of the home, is the Center of Existence for all people. Four sprouting ears of corn represent the four directions of the Aztec calendar which symbolizes balance. 

A wide array of human services

El Centro de Ayuda, which literally translates to The Help Center in English, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, headquartered in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. The area is among the poorest in Los Angeles County; it suffers from high rates of poverty and crime. A tradition of societal neglect, a failure of education and lack of financial literacy have all contributed to a pernicious cycle of generational poverty. 

To help address those issues, El Centro de Ayuda promotes social, emotional, academic and economic self-sufficiency. They provide a wide range of services to struggling families and individuals in Northeast Los Angeles.

Filling a void

ECDA staff provide options. They can help people find a decent job, a suitable apartment and will sometimes escort them to appointments. Case managers help with resumes, applications and interview prep. The Center can also assist with immigration services. They consult with individuals about government benefits such as CalFresh and Medi-Cal. ECDA helps people keep the lights and heat on, offering a hand with utility bill discounts and Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program Applications. Food pantry distributions are scheduled on Thursday mornings. These services address many of the immediate needs people have.

While education is not a panacea, it’s the pathway to progress. With that in mind, the Center offers English as a Second Language class, as well as computer and parenting classes. There are also after-school programs for middle & high school students. College corner “Ambassadors,” mentor and tutor. College and career development are also available. El Centro de Ayuda helps with college applications and applications for Financial Aid and Scholarships.

The Center acts as consultant and conduit, putting people in a better position to thrive. One of the most important and successful programs is the Emergency Match Savings Program which is designed to prevent homelessness.

A match made in Boyle Heights

The Emergency Match Savings Program is where ECDA and SCE Credit Union connect. Research tells us 52% of people in Los Angeles County are considered liquid asset poor. The lack of significant savings means they’re always two to three months from homelessness.

“Far too many people are living on the edge of being on the street,” says Raul Estrada, Executive Director of El Centro de Ayuda. That’s why ECDA introduced the Emergency Match Savings Program and has partnered with SCE Credit Union to make it work.

“The program is simple,” Estrada says. “We get a commitment from people to save a certain amount of money each month, and through grants, we match it.” The Boyle Heights branch of SCE Credit Union is located in the very same building as ECDA and was unsurprisingly amenable to opening these kinds of accounts. The program started in 2019 with 17 people. The number of participants has grown to 128. Of the 17, 14 haven’t touched the money in their account.

“I am proud of who we are and what we do here at ECDA, but you know what I’m most proud of?” Estrada asks. “It’s our ability to partner well. Our success is based on our ability to collaborate, to function collectively. Our partnership with SCE Credit Union is a major reason for our success.”

Creating a legacy

The Aztecs were famous for their agriculture. They cultivated the land and introduced irrigation. They created artificial islands in lakes. The Aztecs developed a form of hieroglyphics, a complex calendar system and built famous pyramids and temples. El Centro de Ayuda is linked to that amazing culture but is creating a legacy of its own.  They’re exactly the kind of nonprofit SCE Credit Union likes to partner with; an organization that takes on difficult challenges and makes a major difference.

Learn more about El Centro de Ayuda