LOCAL FOLKS: Native Tupeloan with a Spanish twist

PHOTO: Deste Lee
Carly Lovorn serves as director of El Centro, which is located in the Link Centre in Tupelo. The organization provides a variety of resources for Spanish-speaking residents in the area.

BY EMILY LE COZ
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Carley Lovorn bridges a gap between two worlds as director of El Centro, the city's only Hispanic resource center.

The nonprofit agency aims to integrate Spanish-speaking residents into the American culture by providing a host of services to immigrants and lifelong residents alike.

In its first year, it has served an estimated 400 clients with adult English classes, workshops, and an after-school program at its office inside the Link Centre. It also helps non-English speakers access social services in the community and does translation for city and county departments.

Lovorn, a 31-year-old Tupelo native, has been instrumental in achieving the program's success.

“She's just done a great job,” says Doyce Deas, one of El Centro's board members. “There is such a huge need with the increase in the Hispanic population, and in some cases, people are so unsympathetic to their plight. They need someone they can trust who can help them. Carley has done an outstanding job.”

El Centro actually started with Lovorn's arrival. Before that, the Link Centre ran an after-school program for young Spanish speakers. Organizers wanted to offer more but had no one to head an expanded program.

Then, they heard about Lovorn. At the time, she was living with her husband, Rob Winkler, in Guatemala and working with a human rights group there. A positive pregnancy test prompted the couple to move back to America. In late July, they landed in Tupelo.

Lovorn, who also had spent two years in Nicaragua as a Peace Corps volunteer, started at El Centro on Aug. 1. Now, a year later, the new mother says she and her husband have settled into a life here – their son Rowan, 1, attends The Kid Company daycare center, and Winkler teaches math at Tupelo High School.

But more than being settled, Lovorn says, she's inspired by the community and its growing Hispanic population. Lovorn estimates about 2,000 Spanish speakers living in Lee County and says that figure likely will rise.

“Just like anywhere else, they're coming here for the jobs,” she says. “Nationally, there is a lot of fear about the Hispanic population, but we need to focus on the local community. And here, there are a lot of good, hard-working, churchgoing people who have their work cards. For the most part, they are not here illegally.”

Lovorn says the people she serves want to integrate; El Centro helps them do that. But it also wants to reach the English-speaking population, and plans one day to offer Spanish classes.

“We are definitely looking to expand,” says Lovorn, who relies on grants, donations and sponsorships to stay in business. “There is such a growing need here.”

Contact Daily Journal city reporter Emily Le Coz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.