Immigrants coming into the United States face many challenges and, according to Alicia Waning, they don't have many places to turn to for help once they get here. This is why Waning and a few other Latinos in the Loudoun community started La Voz Ñ the voice in English Ñ three years ago.
"We are an advocacy group helping the Latino community in Loudoun County. We want to help them integrate. Many people come to us and say the don't feel connected to the community," said Waning, vice president of La Voz.
So far the program has been a success bringing together the Latino community and working with other immigrant programs to help immigrants get their footing in a new country.
"THEY DO A lot of outreach into the community. They are doing an amazing job," said Rina Arita who works for the Northern Virginia Family Services a group that has worked with La Voz on occasion.
Terry Kennedy, who helps run an ESL (English as a Second Language) program that enrolled more than 160 students last semester, worked with La Voz when the group came in to explain basic emergency procedures to some ESL classes.
"What most immigrants need is help with the small things like talking to a principal or having something translated," said Kennedy.
That is just what La Voz wants to continue to do. As of now they run five programs: a community newsletter, emergency preparedness for the Spanish speaking community, leadership development, community forums and dialogues, consultations and trainings, and an ESL program. Plus they have a yearly soccer tournament. But they are looking to expand.
"All of us at La Voz are volunteers," says Waning," and we are hoping to hire an executive director that is paid."
More importantly though La Voz wants to open a Welcome and Resource Center for Hispanic and other immigrant communities
"This place would be for immigrants to come to us and we can direct them to the proper places for their needs or help them get answers to questions they couldn't ask because of language barriers" said Waning. Explaining that La Voz was looking for an actual base so that people would have a physical place to come.
"There is certainly the need and a community base to warrant La Voz's efforts," said Kennedy about the center.
Arita agreed, saying that "there is a need in the Sterling community because the [immigrant] community is growing so quickly."
UNFORTUNATELY LA VOZ is still trying to find office space for its new center. It is in need of a minimum amount of office space to initiate the center.
"It would be nice to find a place that could be a welcoming center," said Waning, "Anything that is available would be wonderful. We are not really choosing because we don't have the money."
La Voz was founded three years ago when a group of concerned bilingual people saw the need for a group that would help to connect the Latino community with government organizations, health assistance and police.
"The Hispanic population started to grow and we saw that they need help with living and communicating and no one spoke their language," said Waning.
Most importantly though, said Kennedy and Waning, immigrants are looking for someone they can trust.
"We have built trust in the community. The community knows they can trust us and not be afraid to talk to us openly."