It was a 10-year anniversary celebration for Ayuda Inc., an agency which provides legal aid and social services to low-income Hispanic and foreign residents, but the talk at the reception was not all cheerful.
Talk of Ayuda's accomplishments and successes was mixed with conversations about its past struggles and current problems.
"We want to make a very strong political statement in suppor of legal services for the poor in spite of what Mr. Stockman says," said Ayuda's executive director, Sharon Armuelles, referring to the nation-wide cut in social service programs proposed by U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman.
Ayuda's staff, which handles 200 to 300 cases every month, lost five members last April after its federal Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) grant was slashed from $70,000 to $19,000, said Armuelles, a former attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. The agency also received money from United Way of the National Capital Area and the D.C. Bar Association.
Ayuda is not staffed with three attorneys, a legal secretary and an office manager, but the workload hasn't changed. Armuelles said she keosn't know how long Ayuda can serve all the people who flow through its crowded Columbia Road office. "It's getting worse all the time," she said."Some people will go unhelped."
Ayuda has received $100,000 the United Way, an increase of $6,500 over last year, and $15,000 from the D.C. Bar Association, $1,000 more than the year before. Before it was cut, the 1981 CETA grant was Ayuda's first such award and was providing on-the-job training for three paralegals and two legal secretaries. All five were cut.
At last Thursday's reception at Meridian House International, Ayuda thanaked the organizations and individuals that have supported the legal aid group since its inception.
The reception also marked the beginning of the Hispanic-American Festival, nine days of cultural activities organized by Marina Felix of The D.C. Council of Hispanic Community and Agencies.
The festival, "Celebration of Life," continues today with an art exhibit at the Senior Hispanic Center and the first of two days of activities for Hispanic children at the Capital Children's Museum.
On Friday, there will be a night of Salvadorian culture with music and dancing at Lincoln Junior High School. On Saturday night the festival ball will be held at George Washington University. The festival concludes Sunday with a parade and outdoor celebration at Kalorama Park.
Guests at the Ayuda anniversary reception included District government officials, local businessmen and members of the Hispanic community. Among them were Hispanic Bar Association President Charles Cervantes, School Board Members Frank Shaffer-Corona and Eugene Kinlow, and City Council Members David Clarke, Hilda Mason, Charlene Drew Marvis and Arrington Dixon. Some of the 800 volunteers who have worked for Ayuda during the past 10 years were also present.
The evening's Outstanding Volunteer Service Award was presented posthumously to Dolores Clay, a longtime social activist of Portuguese descent who helped found Ayuda, which is Spanish for "help." Another of Ayuda's founders, Al Ortiz, said the organization exists today largely because of the efforts of Dolores Clay. Clay was instrumental in getting Ayuda its first substantial funding from United Way, Armuelles said.