YOUNGSTOWN — Perhaps as endearing to many as a local organization has lasted half a century is its commitment to moving forward.
“We are very happy to celebrate our 50th anniversary. We are very grateful for the overwhelming support from the community,” said Mike Ray, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the organization Organicazion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana.
Ray, who is also a Youngstown 4th Ward councilman, was among hundreds of elected officials, community leaders, activists and others who attended OCCHA’s 50th Anniversary Fundraising Gala Friday night at the Maronite Center, 1555 S. Meridian Road.
The large number of people who attended the dinner and four-hour celebratory program also served as further inspiration for the nonprofit OCCHA to pursue its mission of providing programs and services to improve the quality of life. of the region’s Hispanic and multicultural population and others, Ray said.
He added that proceeds from the fundraiser will go to OCCHA scholarships and programs.
Among the offerings are ESL classes, summer day camps for youth and children, a mental health navigation effort and workforce training. Others are computer and internet technology classes, seniors groups, job fairs and workshops, resume assistance, emergency food and clothing assistance, and screenings and health seminars.
The event’s emcee was Henry Guzman, who served as the organization’s first executive director from 1972 to 1984.
Guzman, who also served in the US Army as a paratrooper and earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with a “V” for bravery, recalled OCCHA’s early days, when he was initially on Fruit Street in the city.
At that time, the organization offered its first driver training program. Additionally, many students who excelled in a word processing class were able to get jobs, he recalled.
Guzman, who also earned a degree in criminal justice from Youngstown State University and a certificate in equal opportunity studies from Antioch Law School in Washington, D.C., noted that about 62 million Latinos live in the United States. United. Of these, about 35 million are registered voters. , he said.
Guzman urged young people in particular to exercise their right to vote in Tuesday’s general election and beyond. He also asked attendees to help those who wish to vote on Tuesday but lack transport to their polling stations.
Additionally, Guzman asked veterans in the audience to stand up and be honored, which was applauded.
OCCHA is also an “anchor” for many people in the Mahoning Valley – particularly providing food, employment and transportation assistance, said gala chair Grimilda Ocasio.
“Today those needs have not diminished,” Ocasio added.
In his remarks, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said many Latinos across the country have shaped and enriched the nation through their contributions, work ethic and culture. He also praised Mary Isa Garayua, who served as OCCHA’s Executive Director from 1989 to 2012, for her leadership.
Additionally, Brown presented a key to the city to Angelica Diaz, the current executive director of OCCHA.
Also at the gala, representatives from the Columbus Latin American Affairs Commission presented Jennifer Rodriguez with the Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan Award. Rodriguez is a digital reporter for WKBN-TV 27.
The three recipients of the OCCHA awards ceremony were Guzman, Garayua and Mary Lou Reyes, who served as executive director from 2014 to 2020.
Additional remarks came from Benito Velazquez Jr. and Olga Rivera, co-chairs of the gala.