Latin American Association seeks space in the Mack Gaston Community Center

·3 min read

Sep. 15—Members of the Dalton City Council recently agreed to consider leasing space in the Mack Gaston Community Center to the Latin American Association (LAA).

Rafael Huerta, Northwest Georgia outreach manager for the association, met recently with council members when they met as the city Finance Committee. He said the arrangement could benefit the association and city residents.

Founded in 1972 in the metro Atlanta area, the association opened a Dalton office three years ago on Morris Street.

The association focuses on five areas: civic engagement and advocacy, economic empowerment, education and youth services, family stabilization and well-being, and immigration services. While many of its services are Latino specific, it doesn't turn away anyone seeking help if it can provide a service or put them in touch with an agency that can.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37.3% of Whitfield County's estimated 102,848 residents are Latino. The Census Bureau reports that 48.5% of Dalton's 34,285 residents are Latino.

Huerta is a long-time resident of Dalton who has spent his professional career working with nonprofit organizations.

Huerta briefed the council members on some of the association's programs such as a mentoring program at The Dalton Academy and a reading club at Roan School. He said the Dalton office has two full-time social workers and an office manager who is a social worker who focus on family stabilization.

"The LAA is funded by grants and donations," he said. "Our Atlanta office has two full-time employees whose job is to write grant proposals to get money to help our local communities."

He said being in the community center would make it easier for the people served by the association to reach it and raise the group's profile in Dalton.

City Administrator Andrew Parker told the council members there is room in the community center in the area formerly occupied by the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. WIC is a federal program that provides nutrition and counseling to mothers and expectant mothers. WIC has moved back into the Whitfield County Health Department.

Parker said some Parks and Recreation Department employees will be moved into the former WIC space during the renovation of the John Davis Recreation Center, which is expected to start in March 2023. But he said there is room for those employees and for the Latin American Association if the council members choose to move forward with a lease.

Council member Dennis Mock said he is "very familiar with the work" done by the association. He and other council members said city residents can benefit from the services provided by the association.

They also noted the city has signed other leases with nonprofits that provide needed services, such as the DEO Clinic, which offers healthcare to those without insurance in space leased in the community center. The former WIC offices are next to the DEO Clinic site.

The council members directed Parker to draw up a lease agreement and present it to them for a vote at a future council meeting.