For three decades, the Central American Resource Center, also known as CARECEN, has been a place where immigrants in the D.C. area seek legal advice.
The nonprofit is celebrating its 30th anniversary Thursday night with a dinner celebration that pays tribute to Saul Solorzano, the group’s former leader who died unexpectedly in August.
“It is going to be very emotional,” said Raquel Guerricagoitia, CARECEN’s executive director. “It is our 30th year and the outpouring of support is incredible.”
Solorzano died Aug. 17 after he fell at his home in Northwest Washington. He was CARECEN’s executive director from the early 1990s until last year, when he took on a new role as president.
He would also have marked an important moment in his life this month, when he would have turned 50, said Guerricagoitia.
“People have been so generous, even more so now, just wanting to help us all the way and making offers to help us out,” Guerricagoitia said, reflecting on continuing community solidarity after Solorazano’s death. She said CARECEN continues the work Solorzano envisioned of helping immigrants and promoting civic engagement and economic growth among the region’s growing Hispanic community.
“Our mission is ultimately to promote the comprehensive development of the Latino community throughout the entire Washington region through the various services that we provide,” Guerricagoitia said.
Since it was established in 1981, CARECEN has played a central role in aiding thousands of refugees from civil conflict in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Originally called Central American Refugee Center, the group has evolved from being just a provider of immigration-related legal services to becoming an advocate for affordable housing, economic opportunity and civil rights.
The group inspired the establishment of other immigrant rights organizations in the region, including CASA de Maryland, now the largest Latino advocacy group in Maryland.
Today, CARECEN continues to provide community support services and to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.
“We are proud to be around after 30 years of serving our communities,” said Jorge Granados, a real estate agent and vice chair of CARECEN’s board.
Granados received legal advice at the center when he arrived in the area from his native El Salvador during the immigration wave of the 1980s and has been involved with the organization since then.
“Today, CARECEN remains a pillar of support in our community,” he said.