Bridging the Gap

Zach Mills

There are two words that describe Celia Lopez’s life very well – passionate and persevering.

The 26-year-old is no stranger to the ‘hard-knock life’ tag line.

She grew up in a poverty-stricken section of Puerto Rico, where she was abused as a child. Her father was an alcoholic and she grew up in a single parent home with her mother.

She later married an abusive partner, whom she had two children with, and eventually divorced.

She was even homeless, twice.

“My life has never fit the stereotypical role,” Lopez said. “I was forced to grow up fast.”

But somehow, in the midst of all her struggles, she’s always found a way to persevere.

“As long as you have life, there’s hope,” Lopez said.

Bridging the gap

Lopez is a Western student and the founder and director of a Hispanic resource center in Bowling Green.

The Center, which is located on 1125 Clay St., opened about four months ago. It is a non-profit organization funded by local entities as well as city and county government support. There are about four volunteers that help run the Center.

Lopez believes that many Hispanics, especially Hispanic immigrants, are taken advantage of because they do not understand American laws and regulations.

Lopez said this exploitation moved her to act.

“I just got tired of complaining to people and nothing was being done,” she said. “So, I decided to do something about it.”

Lopez and the Center are helping to bridge the gap between Hispanics and American culture and customs.

The resource center includes GED courses and English, Spanish and children’s programs. It also offers translation services and other support.

Karl Miller, director of development for the college of education and behavioral sciences, said he recognized Lopez’s desire to help the Hispanic community during their first meeting.

“The first meeting was only 30 minutes, but I could feel her passion,” Miller said. “I felt she had a real understanding of what was needed.”

Miller is a native of Puerto Rico and a Western graduate. He said Lopez has the ability to relate to the Hispanic population in Bowling Green.

“I think she understands that the reason a lot of the immigrants that come to any community in the United States is for a better life,” Miller said. “They know that they’re going to have to struggle.

“They really come here alone, but they have this strong desire. They get here and think, ‘Oh my gosh, what do we do?'”

Miller explained that with Lopez’s help the voice from the Hispanic community can now be, “Hey there’s a place over on Clay Street that will help you.”

Right now Lopez is unpaid as the director of the resource center.

“That is our first goal,” Miller said. “To get funded to the point where she can get (paid) as our director. Right now our resources are very tight.”

Suzanne Hillin, program development coordinator for gifted studies at Western, is a volunteer at the center and one of Lopez’s close friends.

“People don’t change the world groups at a time,” Hillin said. “The world changes people one person at a time. I have seen her reach into her own pocket that is almost empty to get things for people she felt needed more. For her love is a verb, it is something you do.”

Balancing act

Directing the resource center is just one of Lopez’s priorities. She has to balance her passion with her responsibilities as a single parent and part-time college student.

Every morning during the week Lopez gets up at 4 a.m.

“If it’s a good day,” she said laughing.

And because the resource center doesn’t pay her, she has to work 20 hours a week at the courthouse where she is involved in the area of domestic violence.

On the days she is not working she goes to class. She is currently taking six hours. After work and school, Lopez hurries over to run the resource center.

She finds time to spend with her children and makes sure there is food on the table – and then she goes to bed about usually 11 p.m., “1 a.m. on a bad night.”

Then she does it all over again the next day.

Lopez said it can be difficult balancing her life. But she doesn’t let her busy schedule get the best of her.

She has a secret she uses every day.

“I do a lot of praying,” she said.

Lopez wants to set a good example for her two children, son Juan, 5, and daughter Yashira, 7. She said they are an inspiration to her.

“They are my life,” she said. “They are innocent. I want them to have what I didn’t have. I want them to have the opportunity to have a peaceful life.”

Lopez said she is happy with the contribution she is making in the Bowling Green community. She said the Center is something she believes will change lives.

“I think if I die tonight I feel I have reached my goal,” she said. “If you touch someone’s life that means your life meant something.”

Reach Zach Mills at [email protected]