Centro de la Familia de Utah, promoting healthy and engaged Latino(x) communities

Story by BRIANNA WINN

“We pursue what we see,” said Rebecca Chavez-Houck, former member of the Utah State House of Representatives. “If children do not see people that look like them representing their communities in positions of higher power, then they don’t see that as an opportunity for them.”

Chavez-Houck is also a longtime advocate of the Latinx community.

“I was in my early 30s, I’m looking at the legislature and I’m thinking about my neighborhood and amazing people I know with accomplishments. I’m wondering why we’re considered a representative democracy when none of the legislature looks like our state or our community,” she said while reminiscing.

This, she said, is what motivated her to run for office.

Chavez-Houck previously worked at Centro de la Familia de Utah.

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Words on the wall walking out of one of the classrooms at Centro. 

Centro de la Familia de Utah means “Utah Family Center” in English. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for children’s educational success and fostering healthy and engaged communities.

According to the website, Centro works with Utah families, most in rural and difficult situations, to help them with resources to improve the outcomes of their children.

“Sometimes the families were Latinos, sometimes they were from other communities, sometimes they were white, but most of them were from the Latino community,” Chavez-Houck said.

Centro impacts underserved communities through services founded on parent engagement, providing standardized year-long programs in rural communities, and engaging staff in meaningful professional development, as stated on the website.

According to the website, the program originally was incorporated in April 1975 as the Institute of Human Resource Development during the Chicano movement in Utah. The agency has now taken an interest in serving youth.

During the 1980s and 1990s, programs were incorporated into the agency’s mental health services to prevent substance abuse and its associated problems. Centro initiated its Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (HYLI) program as well as several other programs.

The HYLI program provided prevention services to more than 300 high-risk Latino youth.

In 1994, the board and staff decided the name Institute of Human Resource Development no longer exemplified the mission of the agency, and changed its name to Centro de la Familia de Utah, according to the website.

Centro operates Head Start, Early Head Start, and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs.

Kari Moore, program design and community impact manager, facilitates the execution of grant communications, the community assessment, self-assessment, annual reports, ongoing monitoring of the Head Start program services, and data driven-demonstration of community impact.

“Hispanic families are mostly the families we see throughout the program, but it really depends on what program and what location,” Moore said in a phone interview. “Up north and south of Provo we tend to get a higher number of Hispanic families.”

In 1991, the federal government implemented the Migrant Head Start Program for the state.

Head Start is a program dedicated to promoting school readiness among economically disadvantaged and underserved children through the provision of educational, health, nutrition, and other services,” according to the website.

“We tried to help the families learn to advocate for themselves,” Chavez-Houck said. “We wanted to give them tools to work within the Head Start program for their children.”

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Young students in class, image courtesy of Kari Moore

For instance, the Head Start program includes parent policy committees. The idea behind this is that there is no hierarchy of teachers and administrators. “Parents come and decide for that center what their priorities are going to be,” Chavez-Houck said.

According to the Utah State Board of Education, Hispanic/Latino students have increased significantly with their graduation rate over the past five years with increases of 9 percentage points since 2013.

Will Gonzalez, a member of the program and father of three, said through an interpreter, “This organization has had a huge impact on my family. We have learned to get along better — we have learned many things.”

He added, “The primary changes I’ve seen is in the behavior of my children. It has helped the children get along better.”

Centro has provided over 41 years of community service focused on increased individual and family self-reliance in Utah.

“I started off as a family service specialist basically going out and recruiting families to join the program,” Moore said. “I really fell in love with the work and I’m just so blessed in my own life for the different opportunities I have to help educate families and give resources to help encourage parents in their children’s education.”

Today, Centro operates five rural Head Start centers and nine Head Start childcare partnerships, according to the website, as well as a portfolio of outcome-based programs for elementary, middle and high school students.

It also offers programs for adults that provide necessary tools and skills for self-sufficiency. Centro continues to fulfill its mission by helping the neediest populations in Utah.

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Students and teachers at Centro. Image courtesy of Kari Moore

According to the website, Centro annually serves more than 700 Early Head Start and Head Start children throughout the state of Utah in both rural and urban areas.

Centro de la Familia is just one program that is helping Latino families all around the state of Utah. If you want to get involved, you can donate online to help provide stronger programs and broaden the impact in the community. Volunteering is another option. You can also contact Kari Moore at (801) 521-4473 or info@cdlf.org.

Centro’s corporate office is located at 525 S. 300 West in Salt Lake City. Other locations are in Providence, Honeyville, Genola, Mount Pleasant and Centerfield.