At the Home of Hope in Worthington, a dream has ended. Martha Cardenas is closing down the place she helped start. The house was a shelter. It provided free, temporary housing mostly for immigrant newcomers. There's not enough money to keep it going.
"I decorated the house the best I can," says Cardenas. "So that people lived happy and they feel like they're home."
Cardenas says almost 600 people stayed at the Home of Hope during the five years it was open. Many were minorities, but some were whites. All were looking for a better life. Cardenas knows that feeling. She came to Worthington more than thirty years ago. She knows what it's like to be a new face in town.
"Oh it feels so bad, I feel like I'm lost in the desert," says Cardenas. "I feel so lonely, you lost."
Cardenas started the Home of Hope to give newcomers something she didn't get, a friendly welcome . Cardenas says when she came to Worthington people stared at her when she shopped. Cardenas says things improved as the years passed. Still, 30 years later, there's a gap. She says all her close friends are Latinos. She doesn't have a single white friend.
"No sir, I don't", says Cardenas.
Cardenas says her situation is not uncommon.
She's a bit of a social detective.
“It feels so bad. I feel like I'm lost in the desert.”Martha Cardenas
She keeps track of integration and segregation in Worthington and nearby towns. On this day her sleuthing leads to some good news in the sports section of the Worthington Daily Globe newspaper. It contains a series of photos taken at a high school track meet.
"This morning I was so happy because I see one Latina from Fulda and another two boys and I say 'Oh my goodness it's about time!'" says Cardenas.
Even though things are not as mixed as she would like, Cardenas says she enjoys living in Worthington. Many other Latinos do as well. The group makes up about a quarter of the town's population. Many are buying houses. Still, there's a daily sense of division. Cardenas puts it this way.
"We don't try to push into the places that we know that they don't want us in there," says Cardenas. "And this is the way they is. And I think this is the way they going to be forever. Because for 30 years that I'm here, I don't see any change. I don't."
Cardenas says there are still instances of discrimination. She says local officials don't appreciate the economic contributions of minorities. She believes the attitudes are driven by a desire to hold on to political power.
Others might point to contrary indicators. There are inter-racial marriages in Worthington. Various city groups have held festivals, workshops and mentoring programs designed to promote harmony.
Still as other cities have experienced, the business of accomplishing day to day integration at the individual level is something which defies government pronouncements. Deb Herrick lives in Worthington a few blocks from the Home of Hope. Like Cardenas, she sees a town where different racial groups live parallel, but mostly separate lives.
"The Hispanics go to one church, the whites go to another, or different services," says Herrick. "There are a lot of Hispanic stores and there are a lot white stores. There is a lot of separation in Worthington. And I think there is a great diversity in this city and I think something needs to be done to bring it together."
Like Cardenas, Herrick has no close friends from another ethnic group. Herrick says she's seen the racial divisions in Worthington up close. At first her experience seems mostly positive. Her daughter married an immigrant from Mexico, though the two now have separated. Still she says she loves her son-in-law and grandchildren. But frustrations begin with language. Herrick doesn't speak Spanish. Her son-in-law speaks English, the rest of his family does not.
"I feel a very strong friendship to them," says Herrick. "When we meet we shake hands and smile and basically say hello and sit together and that's about all we can do. There's no communication."
Herrick says the same is true in her neighborhood. She says she can't get to know families who live on each side of her house because she and they don't speak the same language. She says the experiences have changed her.
"I think I've begun to be more prejudiced than I ever thought I would be," says Herrick. "I don't like that part of myself."
She says it's becoming more common for her to reach quick, through often wrong, conclusions.
"I get angry with myself when I catch myself judging Hispanics that are speaking in their own language," says Herrick. "My first thought is they must be illegal because if they were legal they'd be speaking the English and that's not always the case. It's frustrating for me. I try and catch myself and yet I almost feel like I'm losing the battle."
Herrick says the most difficult part of her internal struggle comes when she considers the role of illegal immigrants living in Worthington. She believes they drive much of the separation in town. She says their precarious standing forces them to keep to themselves.
Though they see things from different perspectives Deb Herrick and Martha Cardenas share some things in common. Neither has an answer on how to bridge the gap.
Both believe if change comes, it will be a generational one. They agree children from different backgrounds socialize with few problems.
For now both plan to stay in Worthington. Herrick says she and her husband talked about moving, but nothing concrete developed. Cardenas is adamant that Worthington is her final stop.
"This is going to be my place to die," says Cardenas. "I love winter and I want to be under the ground in the snow."
As she shows a visitor around the Home of Hope, Cardenas refuses to make any sweeping, symbolic conclusions based on it's closing. No hope for immigrants in Worthington? No home? Too simplistic. All Cardenas will say is she hopes someday someone else will launch a similar effort to ease the transition for immigrants to a new town.
That, she says, will bring everyone closer together.