Hispanic Heritage Month: Erie Neighborhood House

October 15, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The one constant has been the Erie Neighborhood House. One of the city's oldest settlement houses is making a difference in the lives of local families.

They invest in the youngest family members and expect a monumental return. At the Erie Neighborhood House, students from low-income families get a full-day early education program. It's a sweet spot for executive director Celena Roldan-Moreno. The Oak Park native started with the agency in 2001 as the preschool social worker.

"Having started here, I really understand what the families and the children go through on a day-to-day basis. It's just an honor to be able to be here and know that every day that our doors are open children and families' lives are being changed for the better," Roldan-Moreno said.

The agency also provides after school programs for youth. Anelly Vazquez says Erie helped influence her career decision. She teaches digital media while studying visual design at Columbia College.

"I first came to Erie House my freshman or sophomore year around 2008. I first was attracted to Erie House because of the art program they had, Visionaries. My high school had just opened and they didn't really have any art programs or art classes, and I really wanted to get involved in the arts. So Erie House was perfect," Vazquez said.

With a goal of addressing the needs of the entire family, the agency also offers courses in English as a second language and a full workforce development curriculum. They are training workers for in-demand jobs in healthcare and manufacturing.

"You can place people in a job, but if we really want to lift people out of poverty they need more than a job. They need a career path," said Dr. Maureen Hellwig, senior director of programs and quality assurance.

Erie Neighborhood House has three locations, including one in the Little Village neighborhood. It's also an advocate for immigration rights and college opportunities for undocumented students.

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