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HOLA Center opens doors to city’s Hispanic community


The state of Iowa and Polk County have experienced a spike in the Hispanic population in recent years, encouraging at least one organization to step forward and address the needs of this ever increasing segment of the community.

The result is the HOLA Center, a bilingual social service organization created through partnerships with numerous businesses and organizations that have collaborated to provide services ranging from legal assistance to counseling.

“I think the comment we get the most is that this has really been needed for a long time,” said Randall Mudge, executive director of the HOLA Center, a bilingual social service hub that occupies the newly renovated St. Peter’s Catholic School at 618 E. 18th St.

The organization grew out of outreach efforts by Our Lady of the Americas Catholic Church, an East Side parish with 1,000 households, 80 percent of whom are Hispanic. But it also gained momentum through the help of the Des Moines Police Department and the Polk County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project.

“As time goes by, there has been an increasing amount of outreach activity happening in the parish,” Mudge said. “Some of that has been initiated by the parish itself, and some of it is other organizations or agencies coming into the parish because you can find the people here.”

The Polk County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, which requires its lawyers to donate time to people who cannot afford legal assistance, stepped in during the fall of 2004 to sponsor a free legal clinic. The clinics have become monthly events for members of the parish and others, primarily Hispanics, in need of legal assistance ranging from immigration paperwork to criminal and civil cases. The clinics now draw in an average of 25 cases or consultations per month through the help of translators and bilingual attorneys.

Also last year, the Des Moines Police Department started an outreach unit, Hispanic Outreach Neighborhood Resource Advocate, which has served to address neighborhood problems and develop a relationship between the department and the Hispanic community that is based on trust.

Mudge and others from Our Lady of the Americas met with representatives from Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Des Moines to discuss future plans for these outreach efforts, and where those entities might be crossing paths and duplicating services.

“There was a strong consensus that we should continue what we had started and build more outreach capabilities and social service offerings in the community and within the parish itself,” Mudge said.

The HOLA Center was incorporated in March and has added several other social services, including vaccinations provided by Mercy Medical Center and Visiting Nurse Services, domestic violence support and victim services. Wells Fargo Bank operates a satellite office at the HOLA Center to provide clients with banking, loan and credit services. The organization has also partnered with Employee and Family Resources to provide family counseling, which Mudge said has met a strong demand within the Hispanic community.

“There are a lot of needs within the Hispanic community,” he said. “There are problems with domestic violence, money, drivers’ licenses, separation of families, and a lot of people are in some emotional pain. The immigrant experience, especially if it’s illegal, there are a lot of family issues that are very difficult. You tend to think of counseling as something that only rich people can afford, but there’s a real need for it and people are getting it.”

Moving forward, the HOLA Center, which operates with a budget of less than $100,000, hopes to improve and expand its existing services, possibly enhancing its health-care services beyond simply vaccination clinics. Mudge also hopes to work with the Polk County Bar Association to establish a legal presence that extends beyond the once-a-month legal clinic. He has also considered the possibility of incorporating employment services for its clients in the future.

Representatives of the Mexican Consulate in Omaha will be at the HOLA Center on Sept. 24, providing an opportunity for 200 people to obtain a Matricula Consular identification card, an official Mexican government identification card that can be used as identification to open bank accounts. Wells Fargo Bank employees will be on hand during the event to assist those who obtain the card in opening a bank account.  

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