Culmore Center Extends Reach

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Culmore Family Resource Center is stepping up to the challenge of its changing community by launching a drop-in health center and literacy classes for native Spanish speakers.

The expansion of services at the community center, long a pillar of support for low-income and immigrant families in Fairfax County, includes new computer classes for adults and a choir for children.

Since 1992, the Culmore center has offered a raft of services in the largely immigrant areas of Seven Corners and Baileys Crossroads, including after-school tutoring and day care. County officials and staff members estimate that nearly all of their clients are immigrants, with 70 percent of those Latino.

The new programs are supported by about $100,000 in grants from local nonprofit and religious organizations.

The health clinic, which is staffed by a registered nurse, remains open all day Thursday to check blood pressure, screen for diabetes and provide basic care. About 40 people visit the clinic each week, said Terry O'Hara Lavoie, a member of the steering committee for Baileys Crossroads Health Access Partnership, which helped organize the clinic.

The literacy program is aimed at helping adult native Spanish speakers read and write proficiently in their own language, so they will be better prepared to learn English, said Lisa Rabin, an associate professor of Spanish at George Mason University. Classes have been taught by 25 college students.

The center's computer classes are geared toward helping immigrant parents monitor their children's activities on the Internet, staff members said.

"We try very hard to mold our programs to the needs of our community," said Dalia Shiber Schlegel, a supervisor at Culmore.

The center is part of a national network of organizations established since the 1980s. At the outset, their purpose was to address child abuse and neglect and to provide assistance and resources for families in need. In addition to the center in Culmore, the Fairfax County Department of Family Services opened centers in Springfield and Lorton in the 1990s under a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"For more than a decade, the Culmore Family Resource Center has focused on the needs of the local community," said Fairfax Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason). "It is delightful to see how well they have been able to expand their services to an increasingly diverse community."

For the choir activity, the center has partnered with the World Children's Choir, a local organization that sings at benefit concerts to aid needy children around the world. The choir, which rehearses at Wolf Trap and other venues, added singing to the Culmore center's activities to expand arts opportunities available to immigrant children.

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