Andrew Guinn is a graduate student in UNC’s Department of City and Regional Planning and is a CCP intern in Caswell and Lenoir Counties.
As a member of the Kinston community, Luis Guzman is well known and well respected; having served on the Kinston All-American City delegation and also as a supporter of the Promise Neighborhoods grant application, Luis plays a prominent role as a local leader. In addition, he acts as the president of a Kinston-based private, non-profit community outreach organization, La Voz ENC. La Voz serves as “the voice” of Eastern North Carolina’s non-English-speaking community, which is comprised primarily of Spanish-speaking Hispanic residents. Today, his organization is the only 501(c)(3) in North Carolina that serves non-English speakers east of the Raleigh area.
Though he founded the organization as a simple interpretation service, Luis soon realized that the growth of Eastern North Carolina’s Spanish-speaking community meant that a variety of needs were being left unmet. As a result, he decided to incorporate La Voz as a 501(c)(3) and expand the range of services offered by his organization. He chose to focus primarily on permanent and long-term (as opposed to short-term migrant) residents in the area in order to facilitate the coalescence of more connected community with strong and enduring ties to the region.
Having defined his mission as “creating opportunities that will help the Spanish-speaking community to overcome barriers and become informed and empowered decision makers and productive citizens,” Luis developed a variety of programs to be offered through La Voz. Consequently, La Voz now features a Resource Center, English and Spanish language classes, a bi-lingual newsletter, and a series of classes that familiarize non-English-speakers with cultural and practical information that will help them meet the challenges that they face in adjusting to an American lifestyle. In other words, La Voz serves not only to support the Hispanic community exclusively; it also acts as a cultural and linguistic bridge between the Spanish-speaking community and the more established, local community.
In addition to these activities, he also hosts a weekly Spanish-language public access program called La Voz Presenta, which is broadcast on the TACC 9 Community Television channel to 17 counties in the Eastern Part of the state. Aside from providing news and other information useful to non-native residents of Eastern North Carolina, La Voz Presenta serves to tie together the local Spanish-speaking community by periodically highlighting the accomplishments of community members.
La Voz ENC is still a new organization, however, and it therefore faces certain obstacles. Most importantly, Luis told me, the organization lacks a building or office that can be used both as an administrative center as well as the site for language classes and seminars. Lacking such a space, La Voz is constrained in terms of the scale of its operation, as the current arrangement of offering services in frequently ad hoc locations limits the ability of the organization to reach a broad set of stakeholders. Additionally, the fact that the population targeted by La Voz is scattered throughout a large geographical region poses difficulties for the organization’s programming. One particular challenge has been finding a model to efficiently and rapidly deliver interpretation and translation services in emergency situations, such as medical crises.
This summer, CCP interns are working with Luis in order to assist in positioning his organization to expand alongside the Hispanic population of Lenoir County and the rest of Eastern North Carolina. In addition to identifying potential sources of funding for La Voz, these interns will assist in marketing the organization to potential clients and sponsors so that it can expand and streamline operations. Given the rapid expansion of the Hispanic population throughout the state, organizations like La Voz are sure to play an exciting and valuable role in shaping the social and economic fate of the rapidly globalizing communities within which they are situated.