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Montebello Center ‘Hooks Up’ Residents, Veterans with Resources

Despite its doors being open for more than a year, “The Hook Up” in Montebello recently held an official grand opening ceremony in hopes of drawing attention to the services the center offers to low-income families, students, veterans and the homeless.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Centro de Montebello Conecta a Residentes y Veteranos con Recursos [1]

(Photo courtesy of Ezperanza Ortega)

Esperanza Ortega, one of the founders of the nonprofit organization, told EGP that the resource center has seen an increase in clientele since first opening on Whittier Boulevard in March of 2012. The jump in inquiries from the local community convinced them to hold the May 30th ribbon cutting ceremony as a way to invite more people to come in and see what they are all about.

“A lot of people are noticing us but sometimes they don’t know what “The Hook Up” means,” Ortega said. “Every time they see ‘the hook up’ [sign] they think we are like Match.com [dating website].”

Although the small Internet café and resource center did recently host a wedding reception for a homeless couple to help them avoid being sent to separate shelters, Ortega said the center does not focus on “hooking up people that way.”

Instead the center hooks up the community by helping people with their resumes, holding weekly community food distributions, providing clothes and toiletries to those in need and helping veterans fill out paperwork. Students also stop by the small office space to do their homework, get tutoring or use the center’s computers to print out their work.

“When the individual walks in, depending on their needs, we are able to provide them with services or send them to the right agency” for help, Ortega said. “This is like their first stop and we don’t charge them for anything.”

The center originally opened its doors in response to the Occupy Movement at East Los Angeles College where Ortega and her friend Angie Rincon became aware that there are many students who are struggling or homeless. The two couldn’t afford to open a homeless shelter so they opened The Hook Up and decorated it with donated paint and furniture off the streets.

The suicide of Ortega’s 24-year old nephew, a marine who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), led her to become interested in providing services to veterans and more recently helping people understand the psychological disorders veterans face when they return from serving in the military.

“When we first opened we started by focusing on our students but now we’re really focusing on our veterans,” Ortega said.

The nonprofit hopes to create awareness of PTSD by creating a program that will educate children and employers on the mental health issue.

“We’re trying to create a resource that provides answers,” Ortega explained.

This Saturday organization is hosting its first annual walk/bike event at the Santa Fe Dam to raise money for the PTSD program. Registration to walk or bike is $10. The event will also include a variety of vendors selling food and other goods, as well as live music and Aztec dance performances; participation in those activities is free of charge.

The center does not currently receive any government funding for its services, all of which are provided for free and made possible through donations they receive from the community and sponsors. The staff is made up of Ortega, her husband William Valenzuela and volunteers, which keeps the overhead costs, much of which comes out of the couple’s pockets, to a minimum.

Ortega says she and her husband made the choice to cut back on their personal lifestyle after seeing the number of families who rely on their food distribution jump from 20 to 52.

“There’s a need here in the community,” Ortega said. “Despite the economy improving, a lot of families are struggling.”

For more information about The Hook Up and the services they offer, call (323) 516-6382.