According to sources, employees of Centro Latino had an outing to celebrate their successful move from their long-time headquarters on Broadway to their new building at the former Cataldo Ambulance building on Hawthorne Street.
After several months of hard work in making that move, a pot luck celebration to bring about a new start for the organization – which was looking for a new executive director – seemed appropriate.
On Monday, quite suddenly, the celebration came to a halt as those same employees and administrators were told by the Board of Centro Latino that, as of that day, they were all laid off and the organization was going to shutter its doors after 26 years of providing educational services and Citizenship classes to the Latino population in Chelsea and surrounding communities.
The story has reverberated throughout the community over the last few days, with many in the non-profit world of Chelsea being shocked by the way that the organization closed up – with little notice to employees or clients, they said.
Chelsea City Manager Thomas G. Ambrosino said, “I’m very sad to hear about the closing of Centro Latino. This organization did outstanding work in the City of Chelsea for many years. The City will work with existing Community Based Organizations in Chelsea to ensure that the critical programming previously provided by Centro Latino continues in some form or fashion.”
Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said Centro’s board indicated it had reached out to local organizations to help with the sudden closure.
“I haven’t gotten any calls,” she said. “They haven’t reached out to us. I found out when the employees found out, which was Monday. I’ve had employees there calling me in tears. I am appalled and can’t believe it. The audacity to have an outing showing gratitude and appreciation for the staff on Friday and then fire them on Monday – that’s absurd…It also shows a lack of thought about what to do with the clients. Before you just shut down, you have the staff calling everyone in the Citizenship classes to let them know and to work out a new situation and give them time to get their documents and applications. They should have done this over a month’s time. I believe they knew this was coming. Again, I am appalled and I can’t believe it.”
Vega said her organization, the Collaborative, was born out of the work of Centro Latino and has a completely different focus than the educational mission of Centro.
Though rumors persisted about the closure when the office didn’t open as scheduled on Monday, there was no confirmation from anyone until Wednesday afternoon.
At that time, Board Vice Chair Anthony Galluccio – a former state senator – issued a letter signed by the board. The letter indicated that they could no longer make the finances of Centro work despite repeated efforts.
“Centro Latino’s Board of Directors announced today that it is winding down business and will file for dissolution and close in the coming weeks,” read the letter.
The letter explained Centro took on Concilo Hispano and its debts in 2009 and expanded services to Cambridge and Somerville, read the letter. Unfortunately, in 2012, Centro suffered major cuts to its ESL programs and was forced to reduce staff and look for new ways to generate revenue.
“Throughout Centro’s existence, our employees have been incredible,” read the letter. “We stood together and tried to save the agency. As Kelly Guenther, Chair of the Board recently explained, ‘We tried every cost cutting measure possible including renegotiating obligations, reducing work hours, furloughing staff and reducing our space by twenty percent. Subsequently, we lost two contracts and knew we could not maintain operations. We worked with Third Sector New England searching for answers like merger and other structural options, but we hit a dead end. Over the past years we made appeal after appeal to anyone who would listen, and we are grateful to those who stood with us.’”
The letter also indicated that Centro will be working on transitioning clients to programs in the coming weeks, and that 70 percent of the agency’s ESL students live in Chelsea and still desperately need the services that Centro offered.
“It was critical that this board work to leave clients and employees in the best possible position and focus on transition,” said Galluccio. “We never recovered from the original cuts in 2012. Recent events made it impossible to continue and we could not keep incurring bills knowing there was no turning point.”
Centro’s letter stated it has been meeting with organizations such as Chelsea Collaborative, ROCA, Bunker Hill Community College, Connect and others to determine how best to transition clients and employees.
Vega, however, disputed that.
“The only thing they’ve done is reached out to us to get used furniture for their new offices; that’s it,” she said.
Centro’s letter concluded with the following:
“This is a sad day for Centro and our community, but hopefully this unfortunate outcome will bring awareness to the dire need that exists to support vulnerable new immigrants and families who need to integrate into our communities, become part of the workforce and improve their lives. The need is as great as ever. We offer special thanks and gratitude to our staff, board members, funders, community partners and clients that have worked with us over the years.”
The letter was signed by Guenther, Galluccio, Linda Cundiff, Jose Lopez and Oliver Sanchez.