Un Encuentro con Centro Presente

Un Encuentro con Centro Presente

  • Posted on: 9 March 2007
  • By: Eli

LEFT: Jessica Durrum, Assoc. Director, Centro Presente & Eli Kao, CCTV Membership Coordinator

Making connections with a variety of community organizations and exploring opportunities to provide media training in Cambridge is an ongoing process for CCTV. To get a sense for what kinds of needs exist among community organizations and their members, a good first step might be an informal "communications & media use" inventory for each entity. Centro Presente is a well-established multi-services center that needs to communicate with both its membership and the public at large, and also provides education and training. What methods and media does Centro Presente use to stay in contact with people? What kind of technology training needs do its members have?

I spoke recently with Associate Director Jessica Durrum about Centro Presente, its members, and how it uses various forms of media. I was impressed by their membership numbers and by how their community organizing work is integrated with their service provision. Communications with constituents are based around the oldest medium of all- word-of-mouth, but also include a lot of print material and a weekly AM radio show. The web site and its potential to communicate with both members and the general public have not been as actively pursued. The membership could potentially benefit from media and technology training, ranging from basic computer skills to video production skills for an ongoing documentary project on immigrants’ stories.

One thing I realized while speaking with Jessica is that a “media use” inventory is a two-way street: CCTV can also learn from the ways in which other community organizations spread the word about their programs and services.


Centro Presente is a Latin-American immigrant organization that has been a part of Central Square for over two decades. The center was founded in 1981 by Sister Rose Marie Cummins of St. Mary’s Parish, along with Salvadoran immigrants and members of the legal community. Originally created in response to the influx of Central Americans fleeing U.S.-sponsored civil war, Centro Presente has become a premiere immigrants’ rights organization, providing education, advocacy and legal services for immigrants from throughout Latin America. Under the leadership of Executive Director Maria Elena Letona, Centro Presente’s programs have thrived and the “Echando Raices” (Growing Roots) campaign is currently raising money to purchase a new building for the organization.

Some quick facts:

  • Centro Presente serves roughly 4,000 people per year
  • They have approximately 1,200 members who pay a small annual fee and are more involved with organizing work
  • The majority of members involved with Centro Presente are originally from Central America
  • The majority of people served by Centro Presente live in East Somerville, East Boston, and Chelsea, with smaller numbers from Cambridge, Allston-Brighton, Framingham, Waltham, Revere and Lynn


Generally speaking, I was curious about communications and media use in two different (though overlapping) contexts: communication with the membership/people served, and communication with the general public.

Communication with Constituents:

Centro Presente presents an impressive model of grassroots organizing and communications. A list of some of their methods for staying in touch with their constituents:

  • In-person communication when services are provided, during home visits by community organizers and member reps, and at community forums about current issues
  • Word-of-mouth
  • FAQ handbooks on issues affecting the immigrant community
  • A monthly member newsletter
  • A weekly radio program on WUNR 1600 AM produced by a Centro Presente member committee
  • Local Spanish language media (print and TV)
  • Web site (www.cpresente.org) and NALACC site (www.nalacc.org)

Notes on above:

Jessica described the effort to stay in contact with Centro Presente’s constituents as a “constant challenge” due, in part, to the relatively high degree of transience that results from precarious economic circumstances of recent immigrants. Because people may move often, Jessica stressed the importance of building relationships, so that constituents themselves will make the effort to stay in touch.

In order to build those relationships, Centro Presente is very hands-on and takes a community organizing approach. Each time services are provided, visitors are invited to join and participate. Current members will find prospective members and, along with the community organizers on staff, will make house calls to visit them.

Word-of-mouth is effective for advertising many of the established services that Centro Presente provides. For example, Jessica noted that their legal services department doesn’t need to do any additional advertising beyond word-of-mouth referrals.

The weekly radio program is produced by members who are part of the Educación y Acción committee at the center.

The local Spanish-language media, both print and TV, have been both supportive and responsive. They are primarily used to publicize special events or current political issues. The local Spanish-language print media include El Planeta, El Mundo, and Siglo21. The local TV channels include Cuencavision, which is a pay-for-play, “ethnic” cable channel, and the New England Univision affiliate. Jessica noted that Univision’s New England newscast has been very responsive in covering the center’s events.

The center’s website is basic and fairly static without functionality for interaction beyond staff emails. Currently there is not a Spanish-language version of the site available! Some of the staff effort has been going into material for the NALACC site, which distributes Centro Presente news and information. There is potential to use the site more effectively to communicate with constituents, but currently it is not really leveraged in that way.

Communication with the General Public:

Centro Presente suffers a bit from the short-staffed, non-profit condition of not having enough people to do everything that the organization would like to do, and PR is often not the most pressing priority. Jessica noted that coverage in the English-language media often ebbs and flows along with how much attention nationally is focused on immigration issues. In 2006, for example, there were numerous articles mentioning Centro Presente and its work because of the high-profile marches around the country and the debate in Washington. I did notice Executive Director Maria Elena Letona on the segment “Centro” on WBZ-TV, so there is certainly an effort made at all levels of the organization to reach the general public.


Centro Presente is currently expanding the availability of its computer lab and offering drop-in hours in addition to its scheduled classes.

The center has an ongoing project documenting immigrants’ stories with video.

There is an active youth program, Pintamos Nuestro Mundo, that engages youth in leadership building activities.

A Workers’ Rights Center is a relatively new addition to the roster of programs and Centro Presente is building capacity and learning from similar groups


  • CCTV is always available as a venue for Cambridge organizations to promote themselves, either through producing a PSA for the organization, playing a pre-produced PSA or longer video, or by providing access to a BeLive program. Centro Presente has participated in CCTV’s “PSA Day” in the past, creating videos about the organization.
  • CCTV is able to take our public information session on the road, and Jessica suggested that one of the member committees, such as Educación y Acción, might be interested in learning more about what CCTV can offer in terms of training and services. They could, in turn, pass this information along to the membership at large.
  • The documentary project on immigrants’ stories seems like a natural point of intersection between the two organizations’ missions. Without being too familiar with the scope or goals for the project, I would still venture to say that some of CCTV’s training, equipment or expertise could be helpful.
  • We can cross-post hours of availability for computer labs at both organizations. CCTV also has weekly hours specifically for non-English tutorials (Wed. Noon-3pm).
  • Any Cambridge youth who participate at Centro Presente may be interested in applying for CCTV’s Summer Media Institute through the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development.
  • CCTV is developing an online community resource for Cambridge news and information, and Centro Presente’s material, in digital form, could be featured in an organizational news section.