ROCHESTER — Albert Algarin has a word to sum up his work at the Hispanic Community Center: triage.
"I never know what’s going to walk in the door," he said. "Everybody’s needs are different."
For example, on April 27 a woman came to collect the driver’s license she had accidentally left at Algarin’s office. It was then that she told Algarin about her issues with high blood sugar and blood pressure, which led to a discussion about losing her job and independence and subsequent depression. He proceeded to connect her with one of the Home Care of Rochester social workers who comes to the center weekly, who in turn could direct her to a counselor.
The woman’s story is just one example of what happens constantly during the days Algarin opens the center on the ground floor of Los Flamboyanes apartments, located on North Clinton Avenue. Four years ago, he opened the center with a desk and a telephone in a small room before Landsman Co., which owns the apartments, donated the space he currently occupies, which has a small waiting area and a large main room. The center holds two desks, a conference table and several computers for residents who want to use them.
Many of the residents at the apartment building and from adjacent neighborhoods turn to Algarin for help with translation, transportation, and connecting to social services or health-care centers,
And Algarin does it all at no cost to the people he helps, remarked Hernesto Jordan, a Puerto Rico native who has lived in Las Flamboyanes for the past five years.
"No one is denied anything here," he added.
Anything that isn’t donated Algarin pays for out of his own pocket. He said that funds for the center’s utilities and other expenses — such as helping residents pay for prescriptions — come from his regular full-time job selling cars. He also partners with community agencies or organizations for referrals and other resources. The center also hosts an annual fundraiser dinner, which last year netted about $6,000.
"It keeps the doors open," said Algarin, who also is president of the North Clinton Business Association. "As long as I’m working, this place will stay open."
One of the center’s community partners is Home Care of Rochester, which pays for the services of two medical social workers who work at the center every Wednesday. Nitza Rodríguez alternates weeks with coworker Dina Vázquez.
Rodríguez echoed Algarin’s assessment that a wide range of scenarios greets her every time she works at the center.
Sometimes neighborhood residents come to her because they receive a letter in English they can’t understand. She also has faced more serious situations, such as referring people to the hospital for health crises when they don’t take their medications because they can’t afford to, Rodríguez said. Through the HCR partnership, the agency also is able to follow up with these residents, she added.
The increasing number of people who do find their way to the center is largely in due to word-of-mouth recommendations from the people it has served, Rodríguez remarked.
"People come in from all over the neighborhood … knowing there is someone who speaks your language and knows your culture and is sensitive to their issues," she added. "We’re not going to say, ‘I can’t help you.’ We’ll figure it out with them. Or if we can’t figure it out, we connect them to a resource that can help them."
Algarin even has plans to expand services for the children of the neighborhood by offering them an afterschool program that will include music instruction by members of his church. He even has a piano being donated, he added.
The story of a neighborhood boy who got involved with drug dealers on nearby streets prompted this latest goal, Algarin explained. Plans will be on hold, however, until he is able to work out insurance for the center to host activities for children, he said.
"If we don’t help these kids, they’re going to be the next generation of problems," Algarin remarked. "We want to give them a sense … that they can better themselves."
Hearing the needs of the older generation at the apartments, however, is what led him to open the center, Algarin explained. Some of the senior citizens would ask for help filling out paperwork or just needed someone to help them read their mail, he added. Others needed help obtaining medication; providing referrals to health centers and insurers and helping people pay for medications remains a large part of what he does.
Algarin recently paid for medication for Jordan, whom he met in passing in the hallways of the apartment building about four years ago.
"If it wasn’t for this center, a lot of people would be dead," Algarin said.
Only a few months prior, Jordan had run into Algarin and told him how sick he was feeling. Algarin called an ambulance and Jordan ended up in the hospital for five days. Algarin visited almost daily.
"He was there with me," Jordan said of Algarin. "God always chooses a good person to help those who have little. … He is a good, kind and helpful person."