Hawthorne Community Center is the heart of its neighborhood
By Julie Rowlas
A few days ago I shared the experience of visiting Hawthorne Community Center with some friends and new acquaintances I’ve met through my volunteer activities with Women’s Fund. It was a beautiful day and the center was bustling with activity as it was assuming its role to be the neighborhood children’s cornerstone for the summer.
After having served on the grants committee for three years and been a member of the Women’s Fund family for nine, one would think and expect I had some educated and preconceived notions about this particular community center. This is true. I did. And many were exemplified as Diane Arnold, the center’s Executive Director (pictured upper left), spoke with our group and guided us through the center. However, there was one important role, which the center assumed in a much larger capacity than I had previously understood. This surprised me and compelled me to think a little differently about the lives of the families who utilize the center and its programs.
As a second generation Greek American I have heard the stories of my father not learning English until he went to school and the tight knit ethnic neighborhood where they lived in Chicago. They were nice stories to hear over the years, but the reality of them came to life as I heard Spanish in the halls and learned about Hawthorne Community Center’s significant role in melding the Appalachian community, which had lived in the area for more than 100 years, with the newer immigrant population of the Hispanic community. Language was a barrier whose walls have been broken in the center—and they have been done so with care from the staff and compassion from those who use the facilities and participate in the programs—with Diane leading the charge.
During the visit I was pleased to learn how Women’s Fund has played a significant role in this effort by funding programs developed to assist in bringing down these language and cultural barriers while educating the women about domestic violence. The need was identified, as domestic violence is greater in the Hispanic community than others. The barriers were also identified, as they didn’t know how to engage the community members who may be assisted by the program. I was impressed to learn how Diane and her staff entrench themselves so deeply in their community that they cleverly designed the "Piñata Making Class"—a craft program with the core purpose to educate women in the community about domestic violence. The conversations, the substance of the program, all happen while making piñatas.
It all came together for me as I watched Diane interacting with the children, using a little Spanish with her English, introducing us to community members and staff as we walked through the buildings, and encouraging each member of the community to be the best person they can be. At that moment it seemed as if I were visiting Jane Addams’ Hull House—it was just a different time, a different place, a different woman living in her community and making a difference.