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The Daily Tar Heel

Charlotte advocates for immigrants want community centers

A Charlotte community organization, the Latin American Coalition, has proposed adding immigrant community centers to laundromats in a city whose percentage of immigrants is double the state’s.

About 15.1 percent of Charlotte’s population was made up of immigrants in 2008 to 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In comparison, about 7.5 percent of the state’s population was made up of immigrants for the same time period.

Early business proposals have estimated a community center would cost about $400,000 to build as an addition to an existing laundromat. The centers would provide access to resources such as English courses and employment aid.

Armando Bellmas, director of communications at the Latin American Coalition, said the proposed centers are based off of the realization that laundromats are a place where people naturally wait around and gather.

“We thought, ‘What if we could take that time waiting and use it to help with resources at the coalition and use time efficiently?’” he said. “You don’t have to be doing laundry to come in.”

Bellmas said the proposal is still in early stages. Potential sources of funding include individual donors and grant foundations.

“The welcome centers would potentially offer community help and resources for immigrants of all ethnicities, not just Latino,” he said.

“It is still in the process of putting it together. We are sharing the idea with the community to get feedback and put forth efforts to solidify business, funding and moving into the next steps,” he said.

Last year, the Charlotte City Council created an Immigrant Integration Task Force to support immigrant communities.

Asif Khan, director of the Refugee Community Partnership in Durham, which supports local Burmese refugees, said working together is the key to making immigrants feel welcome.

He said there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and towns in the Triangle area would need to consider how they differ from Charlotte.

“The input of town and local immigrant leaders would be necessary to figure out if immigrant welcome centers would be appropriate for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area,” he said.

About 13.1 percent of Orange County’s population consisted of immigrants from 2008 to 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“There is a need for the towns, community leaders and the nonprofit sector to come together, build trust of the newest members of our community and strategically allocate resources in order to address these issues in solidarity,” Khan said in an email.

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