By TIM HATHAWAY
As a young girl in Monterey, Mexico, Aurora Gonzalez used to give all the money she had to the poor on the streets, even though she came from a family that was also needy. “My mother used to scold me for not putting the family first,” she says.
Today, Gonzalez is the sole representative of the Hispanic Affairs and Resource Center of Red Bank, a nonprofit which bills itself as Monmouth County’s premiere service organization for Latinos.
Her days are spent helping people not unlike those she saw on the street in her youth. But instead of coins, what she offers is crucial help in navigating the baffling bureaucracies of government and the healthcare industry.
“On a typical day I see six to eight clients,” Gonzalez says. Each meeting in her office in the Parish Center of St. Anthony of Padua lasts about an hour. Then there are the phone calls. And the walk-ins.
During a recent interview with redbankgreen, two young Mexican women dropped by without appointments. One needed help arranging dialysis treatment at a hospital. The other was a mother who needed help paying for her infants hospital bills.
“A lot of my work is finding the right forms and helping people fill them out,” Gonzalez says. She regularly works with Medicaid and hospitals to negotiate billing plans, and she also refers clients to Spanish-speaking lawyers if they have problems with landlords or collecting salaries.
Most of her clients are parents who come to her office with children in tow, so she keeps two large boxes of toys on the floor for the kids. An anti-obesity poster on the wall in Spanish reads “Dulces Toxicos,” or “poison candies,” and explains what makes junk food junk. Another offers help for chemical dependency. Pictures of ubiquitous Red Bank kids advocate David Prown and some Hispanic kids at a pool are on a cork board in the foyer.
While explaining the services HARC provides to Hispanics in Red Bank, Gonzalez proudly points to the new PC on her desk. She asked for donations from her clients after she purchased it. An accounting book she opened showed the $754 bill had been reimbursed with some funds left over.
“My husband would have been angry if I paid for it myself,” she says.
Gonzalez invited redbankgreen to accompany her to a clients home during her lunch break. It is against HARC policy to drive to clients homes, but she decided to make an exception in this case.
The family she visited lives on the West Side of Red Bank. The father, who asked not to be identified, recently lost his job, and his three-month-old daughter underwent surgery for Spina Bifida and hydrocephalus, a rare and fatal condition in which spinal fluid does not drain from the cranium.
“He basically wants to know if Medicaid paid for his daughter’s transportation costs,” she says of the reason the client asked her to visit. “He also wanted information about getting an identification number to pay taxes.”
Many of Gonzalez clients are undocumented immigrants, and some of those seek Social Security numbers for tax purposes, which will increase their chances of citizenship in the future. Gonzalez gladly helps with such requests, as well as notarization for parents who want their kids to attend Red Bank schools.
“They must show me identification, a (rental) contract and at least one utility bill,” she says, adding that she has lost clients because of her strict adherence to these rules.
“We ask for a one dollar donation (for all services),” she says. “But some clients go to other public notaries who charge $15 because they are not careful about checking IDs.”
On the way back to her office, Gonzalez said the biggest needs in the Hispanic community in Red Bank are transportation, housing and jobs. She also mentioned medical needs, language and education.
As she pulled in to her office parking space, she saw her one oclock appointment standing outside the Parish Center. Despite her empty stomach, she put on a smile, greeted the mother and child and brought them into her office.