EKU Students Serve Hispanic Community

Published on June 15, 2022

Walking into Centro de San Juan Diego, a large, white Spanish mission-inspired building located a block off Versailles Road in Lexington, one might not remember they are preparing to have a medical exam or a counseling session or a GED test prep seminar. 

The front doors are fashioned from wood harvested from Calumet Farm, the wall paint is a warm and inviting earth tone, the furniture is comfortable and the wall decor is meaningful. The interior looks so inviting that it appears you are walking into someone’s home. In fact, the majority of decor is from someone’s home – Jim and Dot Bennett’s Richmond home. 

“My wife did all the decor,” Bennett said. “We want you to feel like you are going into someone’s home so we grabbed items from our own house. We did not want you to feel like you were walking into a sterile clinic.” 

Centro de San Juan Diego is the culmination of a lifelong ministry for the Bennetts, who lived and worked in South America for much of their career and came to love the people and their culture and wanted to be a positive influence in the community. When they moved to Richmond and began serving in this area, they discovered that there were 10,000 Hispanic immigrants living within a 20-minute walk of where they decided to build El Centro. 

“We’re just trying to help people,” Bennett said. “My wife found this quote from Proverbs that basically says, ‘people in need should not be denied if you have the resources to do it.’ It’s not a guilt trip, but there it is.”

Considering his earnings “God’s money,” Bennett said he and his wife decided to build El Centro themselves because he knew of the multiple practical needs this underserved population has. He hopes to provide medical, legal, educational, mental health and faith services without asking for anything in return. 

When Bennett began considering partnerships to help the ministry at El Centro grow, he knew Eastern Kentucky University would be the perfect fit. 

“We don’t have a better relationship with anybody,” Bennett said of EKU and Dr. Theresa Botts. Two doctoral students from the Clinical Psy.D. program, Yadira Diaz Romero and Vanessa Leon, have begun consulting with the clients who come into the center and will begin to offer one-on-one counseling services twice a week this coming fall. 

“I will be providing psychological assessments and individual, family and group therapy series to children, adolescents and adults at El Centro, taking our services there,” Diaz Romero said. “I came into the Psy.D. program wanting to work with the Latinx community. As someone who speaks Spanish, it became apparent to me how few therapists have the ability to speak another language and I wanted to provide that service for anyone I could.” 

Diaz Romero and her classmates have also begun to present workshops on various mental health topics. They will continue the series of workshops when classes begin again for the fall 2022 semester.

“Topics vary from de-stigmatization of mental health to parenting skills,” she said.

She is grateful to be a part of the partnership. 

“Through this collaboration with El Centro, I am provided the opportunity to gain valuable experience for my future career and connect with the local Latinx community, while also helping to establish a relationship for our program that will hopefully continue for many years to come.” 

Bennett said he is pleased that EKU has committed these and other students to gain their clinical experiences at El Centro. 

“These people are poor,” he said. “We estimate that we give away over a million dollars in services. We’re just trying to take care of these people so they don’t fall through the cracks.” 

To learn more about Centro de San Juan Diego, visit https://www.cdsjd.org/

To learn more about EKU’s Psychology program, visit https://psychology.eku.edu/.