Students in classroom

Bridging the gap to higher wages

In eastern Tennessee, this nonprofit is preparing the growing Hispanic-Latino population for better jobs.

For the past 15 years, Centro Hispano de East Tennessee has opened its doors to the fast-growing community of Hispanic-Latino families in Knoxville, where many face challenges ranging from education gaps to childcare and transportation needs that can make it difficult to build a strong financial foundation in the area. More than just a community center, Centro Hispano seeks to empower the city’s Hispanic-Latino population through education, workforce development, youth programs and small business assistance — and its mission has never been more vital. Over the next five years, Knoxville’s Hispanic-Latino population is expected to grow by more than 20%.footnote1 “Tennessee is a new destination state,” says Centro Hispano Executive Director Claudia Caballero. “The population we serve is changing, from recent immigrants to Latinos moving from other parts of the country and looking for community and belonging.”

An important pillar of Centro Hispano’s mission is helping locals overcome obstacles to employment, promotions and better wages. For many new members of the community, limited or lack of proficiency in English puts higher-paying employment opportunities out of reach. Another obstacle is often the lack of a high school diploma. For others, what’s missing is an introduction to companies that are hiring. “We have many folks with great resumes who simply need to get their foot in the door,” Caballero says. “Centro is that connection.”

Centro Hispano offers classes in English as a second language (ESL), preparation for high-school-equivalency exams, financial education and computer skills training through its Workforce Development program. Support from Bank of America, part of its $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity, is allowing Centro Hispano to build out this program, enabling roughly 400 students to participate in its ESL programs, 25 students in its high school-equivalency-test classes, and 75 students in its financial education program. “The support from Bank of America has allowed us to increase services for our community,” Caballero says. “It’s incredibly important.”

Tennessee State Data Center, Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, 2019.

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9/28/2021