Hope Springs Eternal
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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
Amy Ko '97
by Ann Johansson
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.