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Guakia Struggles for Survival

Parents Keep 27-year-old Cultural Center Running, but More Funding Needed

Andy Hart

October 07, 2010

Guakia was founded in Hartford 27 years ago to promote Latin American music, dance and culture. Now the organization is struggling to keep its doors open.

Marcelina Sierra, Executive Director of Guakia, said that last month, the organization’s Board of Directors voted to close it down due to lack of funding. But when the board met again last Thursday, September 30, a large group of parents whose children were taking classes at Guakia showed up to protest the closing. Sierra said she decided to invite some of the parents to form a new board of directors. Eight parents accepted her invitation and they immediately voted to rescind the former board’s decision and keep Guakia open.

Parent Jose Negron said, “My son went from ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ to playing Tito Puentes in a year. He can play six instruments and is learning a seventh...This is a place that shouldn’t be taken away.”

Despite the enthusiasm of Negron and other parents, the organization’s financial difficulties remain, due mainly to cuts in funding over the past year, according to Sierra. Right now, only seven of Guakia’s 12 teachers are working and some other staff members, including Sierra, are working on a volunteer basis until the finances improve. Guakia serves approximately 500 children annually. A full semester of 24 classes costs only $150. Last year, the organization had annual budget of $239,000. That was trimmed to $189,000 this year and Sierra said it will probably have to be cut further – but she is adamant about keeping Guakia open.

“We are providing so much to the community...this place will survive. Even if we have to find free space in a church and teach the classes there, we’ll keep it going,” she said.

Located at 75 Charter Oak Avenue, just south of Downtown Hartford, Guakia offers classes in Latin American music, dance, visual arts, creative writing and theater. For the past several years, the organization has presented the Ray Gonzalez Latin Jazz and Salsa Festival at Riverfront Plaza, which attracts thousands of music fans each year. Gonzalez is married to Sierra and is a music director at Guakia.

For more information on Guakia and how you can help it to continue serving the community, call 860-548-9555 or write to Post Office Box 260029, Hartford, CT 06126.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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