Around F.C.

Latino Heritage Month in Falls Church

Latino Heritage Month, celebrated across America, spans from September 15th to October 15th every year. Here in Falls Church, and in the rest of Northern Virginia, celebrations of Latino heritage have become an integral part of the appreciation for the diversity in the area. The Latino community has been a staple of Falls Church for some time now, evidenced by the continual growth of the Latino population according to the U.S Census. 

The U.S. 2020 Census marked the Falls Church Latino population growth from 9.0 percent of the overall population to 10.4 percent. At a glance, growth of 1.4 percent may not seem like much, but it is the largest growth of any demographic in the area. For some time now, the Latino community has been growing around the country, and Falls Church is no exception. 

One such organization dedicated to aiding and managing the growth and acceptance of the Latino community was the Hispanic Committee of Virginia. The organization, founded fifty-four years ago, merged in 2012 with the office of Northern Virginia Family Service. The Non-Profit office of Northern Virginia Family Service has this to say on their website. 

“Northern Virginia Family Service’s (NVFS) breadth, depth and scope of services offer the resources and support to ensure that everyone in need, at every stage of life, maximizes their potential and fully contributes to a thriving community. We provide the essential building blocks for financial, emotional and physical well-being, serving as leaders and innovators for the Northern Virginia community. Every year, we empower more than 35,000 individuals to achieve self-sufficiency. With these essential resources, our community is better equipped for future success and engagement among all of our neighbors.”

The NVFS works to assist anyone and everyone in the area who needs help finding their way to a successful and independent life. Part of that aid is reserved specifically for the underprivileged and often immigrant Latino population. 

The Multicultural Center, located at 6400 Arlington Blvd., Suite 110 Falls Church, is one such offshoot of the NVFS that serves the underprivileged and underserved people in the area. The Latino community is the largest such minority in Northern Virginia, but they are not the only ones who can receive aid from the NVFS. At the Multicultural Center, more than 1,500 people are helped a year with programs focused on Early Education, Mental Health Programs, and Work Development. 

Paola Sandoval-Moshenberg is the director of this Multicultural Center and was kind enough to sit down and talk about some of the programs and how they work. Firstly, Paola wanted to highlight the effort to hire bilingual and bicultural employees. 

“When hiring people working directly with clients, we want them to be bilingual in a way that can help the people in need on a level that they can understand. All employees speak a second language. In Falls Church, we have speakers of Spanish, Arabic, French, Farsi, and Amharic.”

“What we do is try to avoid the need for interpreters because we know that, even though interpretation is better than not providing services, it is more difficult to create a working relationship and a trusting relationship if there needs to be a third person involved.”

This focus on connecting with clients on their own terms, in languages they understand, has been crucial to the help the Multicultural Center can provide. It is not only the aid that the NVFS provides, but the ability to create a community and welcome people into that community that is such a big part of their success. 

As Paola put it, “We represent the community we are in. Northern Virginia is a diverse community, so the staff is often from the same communities and countries as the people we serve.”

Dealing with caseworkers who are not only helping the community, but are from the community they want to help, creates a more efficient and cohesive system of aid. Latino people in Falls Church, and other such immigrant communities, can benefit from the numerous programs that the NVFS runs. Early education is critical, as it provides pre-kinder schooling for young children from families that could not otherwise afford child-care. It also helps get what the NVFS calls a head start on their education, granting them the building blocks that can be used to succeed in schooling later in life. 

The Falls Church Multicultural Center also runs a work development program out of Tyson’s Corner, which provides classes and lectures, all with the goal of giving people the opportunity to find administrative positions that pay well and provide much needed benefits. 

There is also the Escala program, which helps entrepreneurial-minded people get started on running their own business. Often helping immigrants break into the food industry, there are a few Falls Church based restaurants specializing in Latino food and culture that are successful today due to the efficacy of this program. 

On the social services side of things, the NVFS through the Multicultural Center prides themselves on providing mental health resources to those who need them. It is often the underserved who develop these sorts of issues, and without a steady job that grants benefits, mental healthcare can be out of reach for many who need it. In destigmatizing the receiving of care, and in providing services to all who need them, the Multicultural Center creates a community that is inclusive and that can work together to create a brighter future for the Latino and other immigrant communities. 

Last but not least, the Multicultural Center runs a Thrift Store, whose revenues are put directly back into the community. This is a two birds with one stone program, providing affordable clothes, furniture, books, and other goods to those who might normally strain to afford such items. It also helps the entire NVFS program by creating profits that can be used to bolster services provided, and begin to expand other programs still getting started. 

It should be obvious to residents of Falls Church that the diversity of the area is a strength to be extolled. Northern Virginia is often lauded as one of the most diverse and racially accepting areas in the country, and the impact of this acceptance can be seen by the constant growth of minority residence in the area. It is important to uphold and extol the virtues of the minority communities in Falls Church, and the Latino community is no exception.