The Evolution of El Programa Hispano Católico (EPHC)
“It [EPH] started with one person working out of a car.”
– 1991 ©The Oregonian
In 1982, Catholic Family Services, one of the agencies that later merged to become Catholic Charities, hired a single outreach worker to help support and empower Latino farm-workers. This was the beginning of El Programa Hispano (EPH). The work expanded as the years went by, and saw Catholic Charities helping the estimated 200,000+ immigrant Oregonians who qualified for amnesty under Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Over time, and growing through the 1990’s, EPH expanded as it listened carefully to community members about their most pressing needs and aspirations. EPH worked closely with its clients to meet migrant farm workers’ basic needs such as food, housing, healthcare, and advocacy. By 1991, EPH was serving 300-400 people a month in fall and winter, 700 people a month in the summer, and had developed new services to meet the needs of its growing community. These services included translation assistance, driver’s education, camp medical clinics, and legal assistance.
By the mid 1990’s, with an established place of trust within the Latino community, EPH saw increased numbers of domestic violence survivors seeking refuge at EPH offices, service locations, and even parking lots. In 1995, responding to a growing chorus of voices from the community, EPH hired its first domestic violence advocate. This marked the beginning of Project UNICA, Oregon’s first fully bi-lingual and bi-cultural response and prevention program for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Today UNICA has close to 20 staff members, family education programs, and Oregon’s only 24-hour bi-lingual and bi-cultural emergency hot-line.
Throughout the 2000s, EPH had its largest expansion to date, evolving into a comprehensive and fully community generated and run organization. This was in no small part thanks to the incomparable leadership, wisdom, and legacy of Gloria Wiggins, who directed the program for more than a decade before her untimely passing in 2011. Her vision helped set the framework of leadership and cultural humility for all future organizational development.
Partially as a response to Gloria’s legacy, and to facilitate stakeholder ownership throughout EPH’s expansion, Catholic Charities of Oregon’s Board of Directors, Latino community leaders and clients, senior management, and EPH staff began planning to establish EPH as a newly autonomous agency. EPH had come of age – it was now ready to become an independent agency, charting its own future as a regional leader in the provision of culturally specific services. This new agency is now called El Programa Hispano Católico (EPHC)
Today, EPHC continues its work as a proud member of the Catholic Charities Network. In this new role, we will continue to foster leadership, decision making, and representation of the Latino communities it serves throughout Oregon.
To propel the organization forward, EPHC has established a Board of Directors and selected an Executive Director and Senior Leadership Team truly representative of the community it serves. The new agency will continue to partner with the Latino community to develop lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. To best serve the needs of the community, EPHC will continue to serve from locations in Portland and Gresham, while also expanding services to include locations in Washington County.
EPHC joins seven other Member Agencies that form the Catholic Charities Network of Oregon. This allows EPHC to offer its specialty services and consultation to agencies throughout the state that seek to better serve Latino clients. In addition, EPHC’s close ties to sister agencies within the network will allow for the development of affordable housing (with Caritas Housing), after school and sports programs (with CYO/Camp Howard) and services throughout the state with Catholic Community Services of Lane County, Southern Oregon (Medford) and Mid Willamette (Salem). Finally, as a member of the Catholic Charities Network, EPHC will have the opportunity to work in partnership with 125 parishes of the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, providing opportunities for thousands of volunteers to support the work EPHC does in the community.
EPHC is ready to embrace this exciting new era of organizational leadership, all while still remaining part of the Catholic Charities family. As the largest provider of support services for Oregon’s Latino community, the re-launch of EPHC as an independent organization is simply the next stage in its evolution. This change has come to fruition with the input and coordination of community members, EPHC staff, and Catholic Charities Oregon. With strong, focused leadership, EPHC can now provide its own platform of engagement and support services that respond directly to the diverse and growing needs of Oregon’s Latino community.