El Centro's director to receive honor for his work with children
By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
For 35 years, Roberto Hernandez has selflessly devoted himself to helping vulnerable children and families of Mercer County through his work with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton.
So, when he learned that he was going to be honored with the Professional Award by the Mercer County Commission on Abused, Neglected, and Missing Children later this month, he, with his humble, non-assuming nature, redirected the attention from himself and instead, focused on the blessings he’s received through the people he’s served.
Hernandez, founding director of Catholic Charities’ El Centro, a multi-service community resource center that emphasizes meeting the needs of Trenton’s growing Latino population, will receive the award at the annual Cherish the Children Annual Dinner to be held April 26. The award recognizes his more than three decades of service.
Offering her congratulations to Hernandez, Marlene Lao-Collins, executive director of the Diocese’s Catholic Charities, said
“It is always very touching to me to see and hear how much the children and families love Roberto. He is like family to them, always being supportive and positive.”
Housed on the grounds of Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, El Centro has since 1999 been a source of everything from basic necessities to education and long-term development for anyone who walks through its doors.
Though Hernandez has been at the helm of El Centro since he founded the program, his history with Catholic Charities dates more than two decades prior, when he started his career as a family life counselor in 1979. His continued interest in working with families, he said, is “community driven.”
“I’ve always asked the people we serve about what they need and aimed to develop services that they need,” said Hernandez, a member of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton.
The unique, family-based approach El Centro takes to enhancing the community has garnered the agency national recognition as a recipient of the 2010 Catholic Charities USA/Annie E. Casey Foundation Family Strengthening Award, which is a source of pride for the El Centro and Catholic Charities’ staff.
Hernandez credits many experiences, including his own, in wanting to help families. He remembers being seven years old when he and his family migrated to the United States from Arecibo, Puerto Rico. As a youngster growing up in Trenton, he recalls being inspired by “very good mentors in my Catholic upbringing,” including the priests and religious who staffed Sacred Heart Parish and School, Trenton, giving special mention to Msgr. Leonard Toomey, the parish’s longtime, beloved pastor.
“They embraced me,” he said, noting that it was during a time when he and his family had experienced discrimination from having come from another country.
“They loved me and they showed that they were also part of my family,” he said, noting that it was then during that time he learned being part of a family could mean more than just parents and children.
Hernandez also extended his appreciation to Aida, his wife of 34 years, for her constant support of his work, which many times, meant fielding emergency calls and having to leave the house in the middle of the night to help a family in need.
“My family has allowed me to do this – to work with and help other families,” said Hernandez, who is the father of three children, Carlos, 32, Aljeandro, 26 and Roberto Jr., 23.
For more information on El Centro, visit www.catholiccharitiestrenton.org.[[In-content Ad]]