Kentucky’s second-largest city will soon have a community center primarily geared to serving the needs of its Spanish-speaking population.
On Tuesday, supporters and leaders in the Catholic Diocese of Lexington held a ground-breaking for a new 12,000 square-foot Hispanic Center at the corner of Alexandria and Devonport drives in Lexington.
The center, which will hopefully be completed by August 2020, has been more than five years in the making and will be built and funded through the Bennett Family Foundation, started by Jim and Dot Bennett of Richmond.
The center will host a variety of social services such as medical screenings, legal services, English and other classes. It will also have a community room that will have space for 160 people for celebrations and meetings and a chapel.
“The social services will largely be on the second floor and the first floor will largely be meeting and other community space,” Jim Bennett said.
The Bennetts, who both studied in Mexico and later worked in South America, have long been part of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington’s Hispanic outreach ministry. They saw the need for a center — a one-stop shop — that could serve the social, economic and spiritual needs of that community.
The location, at the corner of Alexandria and Devonport, is in the heart of Lexington’s Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. According to U.S. Census data, more than 7 percent of Fayette County’s population is Hispanic. But many say the population is larger than what official Census data says.
“There are 10,000 Hispanic people within a 20-minute walking distance from here,” Bennett said Tuesday. Bennett said although the center will primarily be geared toward the Hispanic community, the center will serve any person who needs help.
“We have a strong connection with the Diocese of Lexington but the center and its programming will be privately funded,” Bennett said. “For us, it’s helping poor people and people in need. We have been more than blessed in our lives and this is one of the ways to give back.”
Bishop John Stowe said the center will help serve a growing and diverse population.
“We have a sizable Hispanic community in the Diocese in the city of Lexington,” Stowe said at Tuesday’s groundbreaking. “The two parishes where we have the largest Hispanic communities worshiping is St. Paul’s downtown and Mary Queen in south Lexington. They are not visible from this neighborhood. So the church wants to present where the people are. “
Stowe said there is a lot of need but too few resources for Lexington’s Hispanic community.
“There is not enough legal aid, especially immigration services,“ Stowe said. “The good immigration attorneys that we have are overworked. The agencies that try to provide legal services at low-cost are really underfunded. Translation services are also needed. We have great people in the community doing that work. It’s just not enough.”
Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Jennifer Reynolds, whose district includes the area where the new center will be located, agreed. Many social service agencies are trying to ramp up services, but the new Hispanic Center will bring services directly to the neighborhood.
“I have heard a lot of people say that we needed a community center here to deal with people’s basic needs,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said there is also a lot of fear in the Hispanic community in light of President Trump’s push for more immigration raids and a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3 where a white nationalist targeted Hispanic shoppers at a Wal-Mart.
“A safe place for people to be is important,” Reynolds said. “Right now, when people are scared, it’s vital we create safe spaces.”
Bennett said anyone who wishes to volunteer or donate to the new center can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.