Susana Salgado calls herself a product of Edgewater charity Centro Romero — she began as a child in the organization’s elementary and high school programs and now works as its Family Service Program manager.
“I grew up in the organization, I was a participant in the youth program,” Salgado said. “Growing up I was a child that needed more support. Academically, my family needed guidance, as they didn’t know how to navigate the education system. We didn’t know the language, so being able to have Centro Romero in our lives made a huge difference.”
Loyola and Centro Romero, an organization which provides resources for refugees and immigrants, recently partnered for the 19th annual Jesuit Jam men’s basketball game Jan. 30. At the game, Jesuits sold t-shirts at the door and raised $1,200 for the organization.
Centro Romero was chosen to receive proceeds from Jesuit Jam because it’s Chicago-based, and Oscar Romero, the Jesuit priest for whom the organization was named, was recently canonized as a saint, Jesuit Jam organizer Brother Henry Perez said.
Salgado said Loyola plays an important role in not only the charity’s funding, but volunteer work possible.
“It’s almost on a daily basis that we partner [with Loyola], with not only the youth program but all the different programs,” Salgado said.
Centro Romero staff members and volunteers worked a total of 11,210 service hours across its Family Services Program, Legal Program and Adult Education Program, according to Centro Romero documents.
Loyola4Chicago, a Loyola-run program which sends weekly student volunteers to local organizations, sends volunteers to Centro Romero.
Taryn Kilbane, a 20-year-old sophomore at Loyola who volunteered at Centro Romero last year, said student volunteers help students with homework and play games with them. She said she remembered playing outside with the children.
“The best moments are probably on the playground, and just bringing [the students] out,” Kilbane, a biology major, said. “Even though they have to go across the street to a school playground that is not great, they have such big imaginations. We’ll play everything from shipwreck to freeze tag … they are constantly keeping me on my toes.”
Xander King, a Loyola first-year student, said Centro Romero allows students to appreciate their culture.
“It’s a place where they can celebrate their unique and beautiful cultural backgrounds,” King, a social work major, said. “The work consisted mostly of helping students with homework but … we also did small cultural projects about what they did for the holidays or about the origins of the meals they ate.”
Kilbane said she enjoyed the students’ behavior and positive attitudes.
“Also, the students are very well behaved,” Kilbane said. “They’re grateful for the help they have. They have fun with us, we have fun with them. The children are just so funny … everything they do is funny to me but I work with just young ones.”
Salgado said Loyola stands out against other universities for many of the children involved in Centro Romero. Each classroom within the program is assigned a different flag, and she said there was some competition over which class got to represent Loyola’s flag. Because of this, the entire office was “named” Loyola University and the school’s flag hangs in the doorway.
“All of our kids were fighting to get the Loyola flag in their classroom” Salgado said. “So we said okay, we’ll name our office Loyola University, so that way nobody fights … so everybody is part of Loyola.”
Despite the fact that the organization was able to serve nearly 13,000 people in 2018, Salgado said funding at Centro Romero is still an issue.
Funding for Centro Romero is often performance-based, according to Salgado. She said government expectations are that a child in the youth program finishes their class with an A, but Centro Romero notes this isn’t realistic for every student’s ability. She said while the organization works to hit these benchmarks, staff members want to see improvement and effort instead of a certain grade.
Salgado said with donations from fundraisers and organizations like Jesuit Jam, Verizon and the McCormick Foundation, the ultimate goal is for the organization to have its own building.
“It’s one of my dreams to have a space for all the youth,” Salgado said. “Because that’s how I feel, and I should tell our kids that — This is your organization. This is not ours.”
Even the volunteers, such as Kilbane, said they said they’ve observed how Centro Romero’s staff tries to create a sense of community.
“One thing that should be noted is the people,” Kilbane said, “Especially the people who are in charge of it, the program leaders and teachers. They really make you feel welcome there, they involve you and include you in award ceremonies, and they update you on the students’ well being.”
Kilbane encourages every student to volunteer for at least a semester, if not a full year.
“Serving is beneficial for both parties, and serving Centro Romero was so beneficial to me.” Kilbane said. “It taught me so much about myself, about the world, it was an amazing experience.”