Disability-rights center strives to meet needs of Latino clients - Catholic Courier

Disability-rights center strives to meet needs of Latino clients

ROCHESTER — Josefina Díaz first heard about the Center for Disability Rights after receiving treatment for her diabetes several years ago.

Thanks to the center’s consumer-directed personal-assistance program, Díaz has an aide come in daily to help her with household tasks that she cannot do for herself, she said. Since her mobility is limited — she uses a walker and a wheelchair — the in-home service has proved invaluable, especially because her aide is bilingual, Díaz added.

Although her family lives in the area, they are unable to provide her constant care because they also have their families to attend to, she said.

"My vision is poor and I can hardly walk," said Díaz, who lives at St. Michael’s Apartments on North Clinton Avenue. "The services (the center) provides are good. They have helped me a lot."

CDR started off as a drop-in center in the 1980s at the Edgerton Community Center on Backus Street, said its advocacy director Chris Hilderbrant. Officially incorporated in 1990, the center’s staff currently oversees several programs throughout the Rochester region. The center’s main office is located in a newly renovated building at 497 State St.

The center provides services for people who have suffered traumatic injuries, people with development disabilities and the elderly.

As the center’s services have grown, so has staff awareness of the growth of the Hispanic population and the need to direct services to meet their specific cultural needs, Hilderbrant said. To continue offering as many bilingual service options as possible, the percentage of employees who are Hispanic also has increased, said Christine Morillo, the center’s assistant director of human resources. About 20 percent of the center’s employees are Hispanic, she said, which includes a total of 78 staff members at the main office and the more than 1,000 aides working in the field. The number of Hispanic consumers that the center serves is now between 20 percent and 25 percent, she added.

The growth in the number of Hispanic consumers is mostly related to caring for elderly people such as Díaz, said Celia Brown, outreach coordinator for the elderly and consumer-directed personal-assistance programs.

"You’re teaching a person how to become their own boss," Hilderbrant said of the programs Brown oversees. "It’s really unique to empower people to have a voice in choosing the people to take care of them."

Around 2000 the center began focusing on providing services for the growing minority population locally, Hilderbrant added. As the staff became more diverse, the awareness of the need for such things as bilingual applications and receptionists also grew, he said.

Reaching out to the Hispanic community has been challenging because so many of those residents are mobile, Brown said. That is why the center works so hard to always get the word out through church and neighborhood groups as well as networking at local agencies, health fairs and senior centers, she added.

"My goal is to go out there as much as possible," she explained.

Hispanics have unique needs, especially when it comes to elder care, because families commonly are considered the sole caregivers for elderly parents or grandparents, Brown said.

To help ease that responsibility, the center’s programs offers such options as self-directed care for many of its Hispanic consumers, she said. Additionally, a family member — who is not a son or daughter — also may be designated as an attendant and receive training and a salary, which also may alleviate financial burdens, Brown noted.

"It’s a funding mechanism for what people may be doing already," Hilderbrant added. "Already, a granddaughter may be taking care of grandma and it can be her full-time job."

Hilderbrant said the center itself began with volunteers, and paid staffers were added following the center’s incorporation in 1990. This July, the center will celebrate its 10th anniversary as an independent living center, Hilderbrant noted.

The center also has played a role in such advocacy efforts as lobbying for the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensuring people with traumatic injuries maintain an independent lifestyle, he said.

And if efforts to boost fundraising while also collecting donations for a sister organization means shaving his head, Hilderbrant doesn’t shy away from that either. In April, he sought to raise $5,000 for ADAPT, a national advocacy organization that held a fun run in Washington D.C., in honor of its 25th anniversary.

He offered to his friends and coworkers the incentive of shaving his head if they helped him reach his fundraising goal, and ended up raising more than $6,000. On April 25, a day before heading off for the fun run, the hair came off at the center’s main office.

"The strength of our movement is people are committed to it because it’s their life," Hilderbrant said.

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