A partnership between a Gainesville ministry and the Red Cross brought together public officials, community leaders and families Saturday for outreach and information-sharing geared toward the Hispanic community.
Iglesia Cielos Abiertos (Open Heavens Church) in Gainesville was host of the event outside its facilities on Aviation Boulevard.
Although the stated agenda was informational, the atmosphere was fun on the bright spring day. The Spanish-language radio station Que Buena blasted festive music in the background. Firefighters supervised as eager, face-painted kids played inside a fire truck, hopping in front of the wheel while parents snapped pictures.
Hall County Fire Lt. Beverley Walker, safety educator for the fire marshal’s office, stood nearby handing out coloring books, bracelets and stickers shaped like badges to kids.
“We’ve been working with the Red Cross to try and reach some of our Hispanic residents with safety info and preparedness info,” she said. “They organized this; we’re just kind of trying to be a part of things. The church planned the event. We just kind of piggybacked, which is our goal — to piggyback on events where communities gather.”
She noted that while kids were having fun, they were learning valuable information the department hopes will reach back to their homes and parents.
“We don’t have a lot of people that speak Spanish,” she said. “We find that the kids are of course bilingual and it does trickle up. They can encourage parents to do the right things, and tell parents the right things.”
Iris Siano from the Red Cross said the organization’s goal in attending was to spread disaster preparedness education to attendees.
“Our main goal as the American Red Cross is outreach, making them aware that we’re here to serve them, to help them during disasters, just tell them what we do and not to be afraid of us,” Siano said, noting the fear Hispanics residing in the country illegally sometimes have toward public officials.
She added that the organization wants to make it a point to find ways to reach that community, including regular meetings between stakeholders.
“One way is we’re looking to increase our Spanish-speaking volunteers to help in that community,” she said.
When disasters hit, they don’t discriminate, Gabriel Lopez noted. He attended the organizational meeting for the outreach event and is director of the Passion Music Institute under the wing of the church.
“Gainesville being one of the cities where tornados happen, and major disasters, they are worried about the community being informed. We’re able to tell the community, ‘It’s OK, we’re here to help,’” he said. “It’s especially important because of parts like Atlanta Highway, where there are a lot of trailer parks.”
Lopez said one of the next goals is to create a Community Emergency Response Team. A CERT team recently conducted disaster relief work in Bartow County, when a tornado hit in January.
While the inspiration for the event was fire safety, the afternoon also presented an opportunity to promote awareness for several community services, including affordable dental care, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and English lessons.
Clad in purple, representatives from Royal Dental Group on Dawsonville Highway set up a booth at the event.
Lety Guerrero, a dental assistant at the practice, said the outreach was important as many parents weren’t up to speed with best dental hygiene practices for their children.
“It’s a way to promote oral health. Many times when parents come in the office, they don’t even know the difference between a routine exam and deep cleaning,” she said.
The group provided free dental screenings at the church, and gave out coupons for spring savings on exams.