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$7,500 donated to Harrisburg organization dedicated to uplifting the Latino community

Harrisburg's Latino Hispanic American Community Center works to provide food, shelter and learning opportunities to those young and old in the community.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Harrisburg group that helps the local Latino population has thousands of additional dollars to do their work. 

FOX43's Vice President and General Manager Chris Topf presented a $7,500 check to the executive director of the Latino Hispanic American Community Center (LHACC) in Harrisburg on Monday. 

The donation will be used to help fund the program, which provides food, shelter and learning opportunities to members of the Latino community in Harrisburg.

Jesus Vaca-Garcia, 17, helps in any way he can at the center. He's a 2020 graduate of the organization's LISTO leadership program, which provides young Latino people with self-development skills, mentorship and community service opportunities. 

"It's really valuable to me. As a Latino student and as a minority, because, though we are all minorities, here I feel welcomed," Vaca-Garcia said. 

"[The program] empowers our youth by providing them skills and resources they need to have a good career pathway," said LHACC Executive Director Gloria Vazquez-Merrick. 

In addition to providing youth leadership, the organization, which has been in operation since 2010, provides basic food, clothing and shelter needs to those in the Latino community. 

On average, they feed about 200 families each week. 

 There is also a Sharing Wisdom program that reaches out to the area's elderly population. 

"There's a lot we want to do with the Sharing Wisdom program to continue to educate our seniors and helping them not feel alone. [We want them to be] educated on what's happening and defuse that fear they have," said Vazquez-Merrick. 

The center is fully bilingual and is meant to be a place where people can feel at home. Vazquez-Merrick, who grew up just blocks from the center, says the work she and others do to help the community is personal. 

"It's heartfelt. You're not just doing a job, because it's meaningful for you," she said.

And she's not alone in that feeling. It's been two years since Vaca-Garcia graduated from the LISTO Program, but he stills spends a lot of time helping out. 

He says it's his way to give back to the place that helped him so much as a young Latino man in Harrisburg. 

"[This place] has always been something that I appreciate and is something that I really want students like me to think about and attend," said Vaca-Garcia.

The skills from the program helped him land a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, where he plans to study nursing. 

The $7,500 grant comes from the TEGNA Foundation, which supports non-profit organizations that serve local communities. For more information on the LHACC, click here

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