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For chairwoman, being part of the culture is crucial

Published October 18, 2006

Maria Nieves Edmonds moved to Florida from Puerto Rico to attend Florida State University more than three decades ago, so she knows what it's like to come to a place and not know the language or culture.

And, as a retired St. Petersburg College administrator, she knows the value of education.

Now, as the chairwoman of the YWCA of Tampa Bay's new Hispanic Leadership Council, Edmonds has a chance to use what she learned both as immigrant and educator. The council will work to provide a more developed network of social services for the area's growing Hispanic population.

From her office at the Hispanic Outreach Center near downtown Clearwater, Edmonds recently discussed the council's goals and strategies with Times staff writer Jose Cardenas.


Why is this needed at this particular time?

In the last 20 years we have had a massive movement of Hispanics to the area. Right now we probably have about 20,000 just in Clearwater. We need to formalize the services that we have in order to be able to provide for the needs.


What needs are you trying to address?

We need to provide better health care because most of the people are uninsured. Prenatal care is essential. I think one of the first and foremost is to teach English. A lot of problems that we see, are people that, because they lack the knowledge of the language, they are unable to understand what is happening to them. Even something as registering a child for school, sometimes they don't even know how to do that.


A lot of readers complain, when we write about Hispanics, that they don't learn English. Is this a priority?

To me, as the chair, I think it should be one of our priorities because this is isolating the group from the rest of the culture. If we are going to be a part here, part of this area and part of this society, we need do that as a group. We'll be much more accepted.


What is the strategy in putting together these services?

We already did ... the 2-11 survey. That survey tells us what the different agencies are providing. Then what we need to do ... is to design a questionnaire for clients to see what other services are needed.


What kind of organizations will be involved?

We have a lot of service organizations, from mental health (agencies) to the Health Department, to the college, to the public school system, the county commissioners, the police department. That is what is so beautiful about this.


What is your personal background and does this project have any personal significance?

I have been here over 30 years in this area. I came to go to school, went to Florida State from Puerto Rico. I have been in education for the last 30 some years. I strongly believe in education and what it can provide. I'm a good example of that. My heart has always been here, to help people. My roots are there. So it's a personal quest.

[Last modified October 17, 2006, 21:46:18]

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