COLUMBIA - Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15 and goes through October 15. It is celebrated nationally, but one Mid-Missouri organization encourages people to do so safely.

The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Hispanic population especially hard, largely due to initially low vaccination rates. Eduardo Crepsi, the Director of Centro Latino de Salud, says it is crucial those in the community get vaccinated.

"People within the Latino community are dying because of not being vaccinated, and they leave kids without parents," said Crepsi.

Even before the pandemic, children were at the core of Centro Latino's mission. Now that children 12 and older are able to get vaccinated, the organization's after school program can return in-person. It includes free meals and one-on-one tutoring with volunteers, many of which are MU students. Crepsi says that mentorship makes a big impact.

"To know that there are other people out there that are interested in their lives and their wellbeing, it's a big deal," Crepsi said. "It's emotional support that they might not be getting at school."

Children not vaccinated can continue to participate on Zoom. Centro Latino continues to offer other services virtually to many age groups. This includes language classes and translation services. 

"Everyday we need to do something in order for us to be able to succeed, to advance in our education, to advance in our workplace, to advance as individuals, to advance as a community," Crepsi said.

You can find more information about programs offered on Centro Latino's website.

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