Adult education class at Sacred Heart Center classroom.

Sacred Heart Center Steps Up to Serve the RVA Latino Community

In the years since COVID-19, Sacred Heart Center has expanded and evolved to support the growing Latino community in Richmond.

One thing that has stayed the same: inclusivity, compassion, collaboration and equity are at the core of its work. Tanya Gonzalez, executive director of Sacred Heart Center, took the time to “Phil” us in since our last profile in 2021.

Crisis Response

The pandemic sparked unprecedented events and impact that created newfound areas of need for the community. Sacred Heart Center got to work in real time with its crisis response services.

It began hosting vaccine clinics in 2021. To date, Gonzalez reports the Center has administered “close to 5,000 COVID-19 vaccines, primarily to black and brown individuals and immigrant individuals” with the help of its partners.

While vaccine services are still available, the program has since expanded to provide other general health services, which are provided for free through grants to the organization.

This kind of financial support, along with donations from private donors and foundations, also made it possible for the Sacred Heart Center to assist community members with necessary financial support during the pandemic. This assistance program provided about $1.5 million to around 1,500 households in need.

Continued Programming

Sacred Heart Center offers an expansive list of programs to advance and care for the Latino community in Richmond, ranging from English-language learning to art education and more.

One major focus is ensuring education is accessible and equitable. The adult education program helps adults navigate the GED process through prep classes and other assistance. Many courses are offered in Spanish to accommodate for language barriers and to best serve Latinos, no matter their education experience or background.

“The GED requires passing four subject matter tests,” Gonzalez said. “So, you’re having to pass science, math, social studies and language arts, and you have to do so all while you’re a working adult, sometimes undertaking multiple jobs, raising a family, etc.”

Sacred Heart Center tries to make the program easier for juggling parents with its preschool and elementary-level readiness programs. As adults take classes in the mornings or evenings, the program doubles as value-added childcare.

Last April, Sacred Heart Center celebrated seven women who went through the program and passed their GED exams during the Milestone Ceremony. The event, once a favorite rite of passage, returned in full swing for the first time since the pandemic.

Photo of students that passed their GED exams being recognized at the Milestone Ceremony.

Applications for the spring 2024 education program open in January.

A Vision for the Future

Sacred Heart Center is serving over 20,000 people each year—double the capacity the Center was serving pre-pandemic. To keep up with demand, Gonzalez said the organization is looking to expand its operations in a multitude of ways.

First, Sacred Heart Center will be looking for direct community input. It plans to refresh its strategic plan in 2024 after digging into where the nonprofit can make an even bigger impact, which may include incorporating more advocacy work into its mission.

Another exciting development in the works is for its campus, home to the Sacred Heart Center and Sacred Heart Parish. Gonzalez said the team is doing extensive planning for a larger renovation project starting in the next few years.

From stepping up during a crisis to continuing its mission of education advancement, Sacred Heart Center is a constant for the Richmond Latino community— no matter where the organization goes from here.

To learn more about Sacred Heart Center and its mission, visit its website.

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