OMAHA, Neb. — The new director of the Latino Center of the Midlands is shaking things up.

Albert Varas, who became director in January, is launching new programs and shifting resources to build on the center’s history in Omaha and Douglas County and see its influence grow.

“We’re finding new ways we can add value for the people we serve,” he told the Omaha World-Herald .

The center is helping health care providers restructure health services, identify any barriers to care and find remedies. It’s also focusing on new mental and behavioral health efforts, with the help of community partners.

In addition, the center is expanding existing job-training programs and launching new programs, and it’s working with companies in neighboring Sarpy County and the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce to hire and transport workers.

Varas took the helm at the center in January amid a booming Latino population in the Omaha area. In 2015, Latinos made up 13.7 percent of Omaha’s population, according to census estimates. In 2000, that rate was 7.5 percent.

“For the Latino community, it’s an exciting time,” said Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “It’s a maturing population.”

At UNO, the number of Latino students doubled between 2006 and 2016, Benjamin-Alvarado said. Latino students now exceed 10 percent of the 17,000 total student population.

That’s thanks, in part, to the Latino Center, he said.

The center has also partnered with Metropolitan Community College to offer GED and adult basic education, as well as other services, and with Omaha-area public schools to fight truancy and promote leadership.

Information from: Omaha World-Herald,

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