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Aurora Weier’s Legacy of Latino Community Development and Educational Resources

by Marlene De La Cruz-Guzman As I visit the Aurora Weier Educational Center, I am carried in by a stream of rambunctious children tumbling out of the yellow school bus across the street. They have just returned from a field trip to Circus Day at Veterans Park. They are fresh faced, singing happy tunes as they are shepherded into the school gymnasium. A little boy with a tiny hoop in his ear winks at me and giggles as he passes me. Emilio Lopez, executive director of the Center, walks over to the gathered children and commands their attention with a fatherly voice. He reviews their visit to Veterans Park and then dismisses them to kickball games and playground time. He is soft spoken yet his voice is the very steering wheel of this Center. Lopez’s leadership has brought many changes to the center. During his tenure, he has renovated the Center to create a gymnasium, class, and office space in the northern building that once housed the swimming pool. He also oversaw the creation of the soccer field behind the building, as he thought it important to cultivate the Latin American and Latino love of the sport. In addition, he has implemented innovative and timely programs to meet the specific needs he sees, such as the workshops intended to help give teen mothers coping skills and the cultural programs focused on ethnic music, dance, and art. A fourth year student at the Center says that she enjoys attending classes here precisely because of these programs. Previously, her school attendance was minimal, so she was labeled as a truant upon her referral to the Center. This conversion to an enjoyment of classes comes in part from Mr. Lopez and his teachers’ dedication to the students. It also comes from a bilingual environment that allows for smaller class sizes and more personal attention. Rebecca Juarez adds, “Mr. Lopez helps you with anything: schoolwork, keeping on task, making sure you’re doing well in school, helping you find and keep jobs, taking care of children.” Last semester, he even added a Salsa dancing class to the 8th period schedule so that the students could learn a little more about their cultural roots while also providing an additional extra-curricular activity. Mr. Lopez is open-minded about his students’ needs as he has greater plans for the Center. His vision includes adding other classroom buildings, incorporating an alternative middle school, and implementing additional community development programs. As Mr. Lopez points out, he is proud of the Center’s many accomplishments, and he wants to build on these because “the Center is the only Latino organization in the neighborhood area.” The Center, which was founded in 1984 by Aurora Weier (see sidebar on page 10), has thrived, thanks to her vision. It primarily serves high school students who need an alternative educational environment, but it has recently expanded to include community services such as GED classes, workshops for teen moms, and seminars on family resources and affordable housing, as well as the cultural program workshops Arte de mi barrio and Musica de mi barrio. The latter two allow the Center to hire Latino artists and musicians to teach children during the summer. This year’s presenters will be Romero Hernandez, artist, and One Drum’s Julio Pabon, musician. The programs have been created to meet the expanding needs of the Latino community, and as such, they consciously keep this community as 80 percent of the Center’s target audience while always welcoming the community at large. For more information about Arte de mi barrio and Musica de mi barrio, as well as other programs and services offered at Aurora Weier Educational Center, call (414) 562-8398 or stop by at 2669 N. Richards Street.
by Marlene De La Cruz-Guzman