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Fall 2000

Hope Springs Eternal

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The Hope Street Family Center, a collaboration with UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families, and Communities, gives children of Los Angeles' working poor a chance to reach their full potential

By Amy Ko '97
Photography by Ann Johansson

Eleven years ago, Margarita Aguilar arrived in Southern California with a 5-year-old in tow, no money, no contacts and no place to live. She found a job as a cleaning woman, working Monday through Saturday, some days starting at 2 a.m. and continuing until after 5 in the evening. She was paid $80 a week, and her bosses often threatened to fire her if she didn't also work Sundays. While she worked, Aguilar had to pay someone to care for her daughter, Maritza. But sometimes no one came to pick up the child from school, and Aguilar would get a chilling telephone call warning that the police would be notified if her daughter was left again.

After several months, Aguilar took a job sewing clothing in the garment district, where she met her husband. Things have improved some; now she is able to stay home to care for their children while he works. The family of six lives in a one-room apartment on the second floor of a small building next to the Harbor Freeway.

Margarita Aguilar's story is not unusual in Los Angeles. But for many families like hers struggling to make it in the inner city, there is at least one place where they and their children can turn for help: Hope Street Family Center.

Established in 1992 as a pilot program funded by a grant from the federal Administration for Children and Families to UCLA and California Hospital Medical Center, Hope Street is a comprehensive resource center serving the downtown Los Angeles area. More than 70 percent of this community is Latino; many are recent immigrants; most work in the garment, manufacturing and service industries; Spanish is the dominant language. The area has the lowest literacy level in the city; just 23 percent of the population has a high school diploma, and more than half have little more than a rudimentary education. Forty-two percent of households in the area make less than $15,000 a year, and to meet Hope Street eligibility, a family of three will earn below the federal poverty level of $14,150.

The hurdles faced by the working poor go beyond the economic: Poverty also impacts children's health, early development and later school readiness, thwarting the most basic desires of parents to attain a better education for their sons and daughters.

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