The staff at La Casita Center likes to call the programs and clients the nonprofit provides “accompaniments.” Executive Director Karina Barillas said “what drew me to this work originally was accompanying other immigrant women in their journey.” Media Liaison Sassa Rivera further explains the philosophy of the term used at La Casita.
“Why we call them accompaniments is because we are not above them or below them – we see each other as equals in their journey to self-determination as they figure out exactly where they want to be and who they want to be in this new world, in their new country, and we have the honor of accompanying them through that process.”
La Casita Center’s vision is to enhance the well-being of Louisville’s Latino community through education, empowerment, advocacy, and wellness. La Casita Center, which provides language services in Spanish, English and two indigenous Guatemalan languages, works intentionally to build a thriving community based on mutual support and respect. “We want to be a community of Latinx hospitality,” said Barillas. “I want to share love for every single person who is here in town. I want them to feel the welcome and kindness and hospitality I once received 25 years ago when I arrived,” she said.
A native of Guatemala, Barillas came to the United States as a University of Louisville Fulbright Scholar in 1994. Starting in about 2000, La Casita began informally by helping women victimized by domestic violence and families in crisis. “We grew a little bit each year, expanding our services,” said Barillas. Since becoming an officially registered nonprofit in 2016, the center’s needs and staff have grown exponentially, with 12 staff members in 2018. Now La Casita Center helps the Latinx community with a myriad of direct-service programs, but Barillas says it always starts with the basic necessities.
“Our guests, our visitors are very important. The accompaniments we provide are to make sure that, first of all, people have eaten on that day. We have a soup kitchen that provides breakfast and lunch every day. We also have a food pantry, clothing closet and diaper program, and free legal clinic. We also give accompaniments for families with special needs children,” said Barillas.
That program for families, like La Casita itself, has expanded, serving only 11 families in 2013, and in 2018, over 190 families with special needs. “We help individuals and children with all kinds of diagnoses and give connections and access to other services and resources needed. Basically, we do whatever is needed at the moment for the community. I like to tell people, you name it and we do it, and if we don’t do it, we will make it up.”
La Casita Center has experienced a growth explosion in the last two years, providing a total of 18,000 services in 2017, and doubling that in 2018 to 36,000 services. Likewise, the center has doubled staff from six to 12, and sees an average of 30 to 40 clients on slow days and approximately 150 on busy days. The center started as one office in a house, and now covers two floors of office space in its Old Louisville building, offering not only social services, but also support groups for Latino women, teens and children, cultural enrichment, workshops and education. La Casita also has established strong partnerships with both the Guatemalan and Mexican consulates.
Barillas said she sees economic needs on the rise, especially in the winter when different occupations and industries are slow such as construction, yard work and the horse industry. But she emphasizes it’s not only the Latinx community experiencing an increase in poverty and trauma and mental health issues – that is across all social service agencies.
Rivera, who joined La Casita as Media Liaison eight months ago, has been involved as a volunteer at the center for three years. “We work with holistic approaches for our accompaniments, who often come to La Casita with nowhere else to turn because of immigration status, language barrier or simply the fact they don’t know where they can be respected or heard. Some of them come hungry or with no shoes on their feet, or they don’t have clothes appropriate for the weather.
She said others are new to the country and don’t know where the grocery stores are, or they are facing very pressing immigration and legal needs and don’t know where to find an attorney or even understand what their options are. “We provide all this with a smile,” said Rivera.
Rivera said she loves that La Casita is very intentional about offering services to anyone regardless of who they are. “The fact that human rights and advocacy work is something the center specializes in – this is something very beautiful to me,” she said. “Even though the caseload gets bigger and bigger by the day, I know every single day I work at the center I am helping my own Latinx community, and it’s a great honor.”
For Barillas, the tradition of La Casita is to support all families who have been historically oppressed and minoritized, not just Latinx. “Deep in our heart we believe when every single person thrives, we all thrive,” she said. “That is why we think it is important that the Latinx community is not invisible. We are here. We are your neighbors and teachers. We are your doctors and construction workers and yard workers. We are part of the community.”
She extends an invitation for everyone to visit La Casita Center, where they will be welcomed with a big smile. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak Spanish, because kindness doesn’t need translation.”
Diapers and baby wipes (sizes 4-6)
Spaghetti sauce in jar
Maseca (tortilla flour)
Kroger gift cards