Guests enjoy free swimming and pool time as they float along the lazy river, relaxing in the sun on Friday evening, Aug. 13, at the Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center-hosted health and services fair. | MARCIE LANDEROS PHOTO
EL CENTRO — Martha Hernandez of Calexico brought her two young children to join in the festivities at the Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center’s health and services fair at the Aquatic Center on Friday evening, Aug. 13.
“I was so excited to hear that there was an event where I could bring my kids into the Aquatic Center for free,” she said as her children played in the splash pool. “So, I was really excited when I found out I could get my kids free snow cones.”
And all she had to do to get those snow cones was pass through a maze of tables where community health and humanitarian organizations provided information and outreach on programs meant to help struggling families.
“We’ve invited a number of partner organizations who have come out tonight, and you have to go through all those tables to get a snow cone, but it’s important information,” said Daniel Sohn, the chief executive officer of the Imperial Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce and an LGBT Resource Center board member. “And we are so impressed with how many people decided to come out. I think we’re going to have a great time.”
Denise Martinez, an resident of El Centro, expressed pride in her city for hosting this event.
“It’s nice to see El Centro really trying to raise awareness about assistance programs and the LGBT community and stuff. I think it is good for our city.”
As the sun set in the western sky, residents from all around the area joined the IV LGBT Resource Center and its partner organizations to stage the health and services fair. Admission to the Aquatic Center was waived for all county residents for the evening, with swimming, food, education, and music.
“The weather is getting nicer, and it’s time to get things kicking off here in the Valley, and one way to do is it to come together, post-COVID, but also providing some resources at the same time. Having some fun, but also providing some education combined,” Sohn said.
The IV LGBT Resource Center’s partners included organizations like the city of El Centro, Imperial County Public Health Department, Planned Parenthood, and Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program.
The real star of the evening was the Rental Relief Program that the LGBT Resource Center was facilitating. The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program will help households who are struggling pay rent and utilities, for past due and future payments. The federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 provides funding to support the program through the state, according to information on the program.
The LGBT Resource Center is taking the program a step further by helping residents in the application process.
“A lot of people lost their jobs, or are not working, or lost their hours, and they are not able to pay their rent, or their utilities, so this program helps them with that, so it is aiding the community in being more economically stable in that sense,” said Bibi Fernandez, an outreach coordinator for the LGBT Resource Center’s Rental Assistance Program.
“You know, a lot of people are being reluctant sometimes to go look for the aid, because either (they’re) illegal (immigrants), or they’re living in a household and renting a room, or their living in a back yard, you know, in another type of … a duplex or whatever, all of that does not matter in this program,” Fernandez said. “They will help you, they will aid you, and it doesn’t take much, so if you are in need of help, try to get it.”
The night moved along to the sounds of a DJ Kenetik and two bands, Nonverbal Expression and Docta Groove: The Free Folk.
“We’re excited to be here, it’s not every day we get funded by the city to play,” Robert Ram, the drummer of Nonverbal Expression shared with a laugh. He went on to explain that this was actually the first time the band has been able to play publicly since the beginning of COVID. “With all the venues closed, there was nowhere left to play.”
In a corner just inside a doorway, one table quietly checked visitor’s glucose and blood pressure, as they handed out information on services that will soon be coming to the Calexico Community Center.
That table represented Plaza Comunitaria Sinaloa, an organization dedicated to the education of Hispanic communities. This includes classes on health, computers, and literacy.
“We are here, we offer free services, and if they don’t mind to driving to Calexico to take the classes, it’s everything is alright. We don’t ask for any documents, or any insurance, any proof of immigration status. Everything we do is free. And we are validated by the school district, CETYS (Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior) in Mexicali, and the INEA (Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos),” Adriana Buelña, a program coordinator for Plaza Comunitaria Sinaloa, said.
While a start date hasn’t been listed for Plaza Comunitaria Sinaloa’s classes, Buelña assured visitors to her table that the arrangements had been made, and that the supplies had been purchased for the new program, but they were waiting to find out when their start date would be.
To follow up on any of these services, contact the LGBT Resource Center though its website.
All of the information provided by the LBGT Resource Center was valuable, but it might have been lost on 9-year-old girl Aldana Gomez of Brawley, who beamed through bright eyes and a wide smile.
“My favorite was the floatie river,” she said, oblivious to the goings on at the info tables. “It was very relaxing.”