By Jenna Cho Day Staff Writer
New London - With Encounters of Hope ("Encuentros de Esperanza") the First Hispanic Baptist Church is tackling a goal it has had for several years: "to transform New London one family at a time."
"It is our mission," said Executive Director Debra Pennuto-Muñiz, "to strengthen, educate Hispanic families not only in New London but in our surrounding (area). ... Our focus is on the Latino community, but we're not exclusive, we're inclusive."
Encounters of Hope is the new service arm of the church at 35 Redden Ave. The church raised funds to build the addition that now houses the Encounters office and meeting spaces.
The multi-service center opened June 30 and provides an umbrella under which the church can offer educational, advocacy and health services to anyone who needs them, said Pennuto-Muñiz. It will eventually house a free clinic, the cornerstone of the center's goal to help an underserved segment of the population.
The opening of Encounters means the church can expand on the resources it already provides, such as tutoring and discounted groceries from the Angel Food Ministries.
Encounters provides immigration assistance to people who are undocumented and a new support group for parents and families of children with special needs, which meets at 5 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month.
"We offer a multitude of services that aren't even listed," Pennuto-Muñiz said. "Informally, we offer paralegal services, social services, we do referrals. We help people with translations."
After-school and mentoring programs are planned for when school gets back in session. And members of the congregation are undergoing a six-month program to become certified as drug and alcohol counselors, Pennuto-Muñiz said.
There's even a new café and bookstore where people can get coffee and Latin sweets and use the free wireless service, Pennuto-Muñiz said. It's open only on Sundays after church services, but Pennuto-Muñiz hopes to expand the hours and attract students looking for a quiet place to relax or study.
Encounters of hope
Who: First Hispanic Baptist Church
What: Encounters of Hope/Encuentros de Esperanza, a new faith-based center offering services for the Hispanic community and beyond
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays
Where: 35 Redden Ave. in New London
Contact: Executive Director Debra Pennuto-Muñiz at (860) 439-0034 or firstname.lastname@example.org