When the Cultural Empowerment and Community Engagement Center opened in June 2018, Dan Irizarry says the goal was to bring people together around common goals.

“This right here, was in real disrepair,” said Irizarry, pointing to some of the work that’s been done to the building.

The chairman of the Capital District LATINOS says this place is for culture, art, music, and poetry. It’s a place for the growing Latino community to come together and stay connected to their roots.

“We want people to feel that culture is something that can empower them,” Irizarry said.

When it opened two years ago, the center also welcomed the Castle Island Bilingual Montessori School. It offers education fully immersed in English and Spanish from early childhood through elementary.

“I noticed that there was a need in the community for a bilingual language emerging English Spanish school,” said Diane Nickerson, the school's director and founder.

Irizarry says things were going well until the COVID-19 pandemic. That forced them to close for nearly four months, which resulted in losing $50,000 in grants and other revenues, according to Irizarry.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us now to reimagine what our operations are going to look like post COVID. So that’s going to be a challenge, but that’s a challenge that we share with everyone,” said Irizarry.

But they’re starting to get back into the swing of things. Services are back, preparations for Hispanic Heritage Month is underway, and there’s a push to make sure the minority population will be counted for the census.

“If we can use that an opportunity to create possibilities, to create solutions, then that will truly mean we’ve been able to take a disaster and turn it into a success,” Irizarry said.