It’s not obvious from the exterior, but on a corner in Union City sits a community gem. Based on a philosophy of volunteerism and community investment, Comite En Union para Salvadorenos (CEUS) has been a resource for immigrants in Hudson County and throughout northern New Jersey for 18 years.
Founded by Executive Director Blanca Molina and other Salvadoran immigrants, CEUS was formed to help galvanize the immigrant community on a local level. Housed in their own center at 4511 New York Ave. in Union City, programs include educational, recreational, and cultural activities. CEUS also provides legal immigration services for about 500 clients a year.
“It’s the job of everyone to come together and work together.” – Blanca Molina
“It was surprising,” said Molina. “But it was a good start.”
Started with a class
One of the first programs created was the English as a second language class. Over 10 years later, classes run for three semesters a year and can draw as many as 90 students during their winter term.
While the English classes are mostly filled with a pan-Latino group, they’ve also attracted students from Turkey, Italy, and Korea.
In addition to the English classes, CEUS also provides Spanish literacy classes.
“Many don’t know how to read or write their own language,” said Molina. “Seeing the positive change in people makes you feel like the work you are doing is worth it.”
To help move forward on their multi-prong approach to community action locally, CEUS recently hired a part-time worker who will be leading the women’s group with a focus on outreach and organizing for women’s rights.
Molina is hoping to breathe new life into the women’s group of CEUS by attracting more volunteers to keep it running.
“It’s not only my job,” said Molina. “It’s the job of everyone to come together and work together.”
While helping immigrants assimilate to their new home in the United States, CEUS has not forgotten the communities that many of its members came from in Central America. Fundraisers are held throughout the year to provide support in times of crisis and promote economic development in the region.
CEUS is an independent organization primarily run by volunteers. Funding comes mostly from member contributions, donations, and proceeds from the programs. The group has acquired a number of foundation grants but receives no government money.
Beyond their cultural nights for music and poetry, members also mobilize for political issues. Workshops are offered to hone leadership skills. Last October, approximately 35 CEUS members joined an immigration reform rally in Washington DC.
And the message of activism is passed down early. Last month, children of immigrants wrote messages and drew pictures to President Obama at the CEUS community center. The letters encouraged him to remember his promise to bring about immigration law reform that will not require families to be separated.
Molina hopes to create more CEUS programs for children in the coming year. “It’s important to connect them with the immigration issue,” said Molina. “Most of them don’t understand their parents’ illegal status.”
CEUS Membership is open to all community members, without regard to nationality. For more information, please visit www.ceusnj.org or call (201) 617-2466.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at email@example.com. sidebar
Paving the way for ‘Temporary Protective Status’
While a civil war ravaged their country in the 1980’s, Salvadorans sought refuge in the United States. Many who applied for asylum were denied it and deported. Those sent back to El Salvador were often killed upon their return.
Through community action, the Salvadoran community banded together to persuade the United States government to stop deportation. Salvadorans were eventually granted Temporary Protective Status, which is now used to protect immigrants from returning to countries that are unsafe.
Several countries have since benefited from this status, which the Salvadoran community helped create, including Haitians who are now eligible for this status because of the damage caused by the recent earthquake.