In 2002, Roberta Warmack discovered a need in Calhoun-Gordon County – for someone to speak for and help the Hispanic community. Later that year, she founded a nonprofit that continues to bring both Spanish- and English-speakers together.
The Latinos for Education and Justice Organization was started by Warmack as an agency under the United Way umbrella to help break the language and culture barrier between Latinos and Americans. Now, almost 17 years later, the organization itself has expanded far beyond Warmack’s vision.
Offering programs to develop computer skills, leadership development and financial education, LEJO serves both students and adults, and is always accepting volunteers.
Belen Reyes, the nonprofit’s current executive director, said her involvement started as a volunteer.
“It was in 2006 when I contacted Ms. Warmack and she said come volunteer at LEJO,” Reyes said of her start with the organization. “It was good for me.”
Reyes soon was hired as a part-time employee, and volunteered when she wasn’t working, essentially spending all of her time with the organization to help facilitate programs and lead Spanish conversation clubs.
Moving up the ladder over time, Reyes moved to full-time and was later promoted to director nearly three years ago. She said being a part of LEJO has helped her not only by giving her something to focus on, but by also teaching her how to invest in the community.
“It’s helped me a lot with my education and with the language barrier because I was struggling a lot with English, but now I feel more comfortable,” Reyes said. “I’ve learned to be more compassionate, to be more open to helping the community.”
Reyes said the organization provides student tutoring Mondays through Thursdays, and she said they have a great location for students since they are just down the road from Calhoun High and Middle. They serve both county and city school students, yet because of their location, they mostly work with the city schools.
While tutoring is provided for elementary and middle school students, Reyes said she sees a lot of past students return to LEJO to volunteer with the younger children and make a difference by giving back.
They also have summer programs for students, providing an educational setting for students to learn while they’re on break from school.
And while their programs are aimed to help acclimate Hispanics into society, Reyes said they are open to anyone who’s interested.
“We don’t only serve Hispanics and Latinos, our doors are open to anyone,” Reyes said. “Our mission is to provide Hispanics, minorities and undeserved groups leadership, educational resources and mentorship needed to improve their quality of life.”
LEJO is located at 681 Pine St., and offers programs such as after school tutoring, beginner computer classes, job search assistance, document translation, GED classes in Spanish, summer kids programs and English classes. For more information, visit their Facebook page.