Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Ingrid Guzman helped start Centro Hispano in Provo in 2002 to help Hispanic immigrants.

PROVO — Some call her a mother, others call her a friend, but they all agree that Ingrid Guzman is the very corazon — heart — of the Hispanic community in Utah County.

After years of dedicated service through Centro Hispano in Provo, however, Guzman is stepping away with great emotion from the organization she helped build and a group of people she loves.

"Since I moved to Provo, she's been like my best friend," said Violeta Arce of Provo. "She's always cared about me; she's part of my family already. She's a very special person because she's always been there for me. She cares about everybody."

Arce's sentiments were typical of a group of friends and co-workers gathered at Centro Hispano Wednesday for an open house in Guzman's honor. Guzman is leaving the organization to spend more time with her family and to write a book on her experiences. Those whose lives Guzman touched over the years trickled into the center for one last hug or one last word of gratitude.

Guzman helped start Centro Hispano in 2002 along with Joan Dixon after they saw a need in the community to mentor and orient Hispanic immigrants to their new communities. What they started as just a volunteer effort has grown into an organization that now monthly connects more than 500 Hispanic members of the community to more than 300 educational, financial and other services in Utah and Salt Lake counties. Dixon said they wanted to create a program to which immigrants could come and get their questions answered, whatever those questions may be.

"Ingrid and Centro Hispano (have) worked real hard to let our new Hispanic immigrants be a part of our community," said Bill Hulterstrom, president of United Way of Utah County, which helps support Centro Hispano. "They have worked in giving them a chance to share their talents as well as get necessary help and services they may need."

Coming to Provo to escape family problems, Arce needed someone to turn to for help, and Guzman helped answer her plea.

"Since I met her, I knew she was a wonderful person," Arce said. "Because she's kind of my angel, she's always there for me."

Maryoury Valenzuela said that Guzman's personal experiences have helped her understand what other women are going through, especially when it comes to domestic violence.

"Ingrid, for me, is a great person," Valenzuela said. "She's a great example in the community — she's a great help to the community."

Valenzuela listed a host of services assisting the Hispanic community directly because of Guzman's work. From seminars and therapy related to domestic violence to programs to help parents and families raising children, Guzman has been there every step of the way, lending her knowledge, experience and love to those around her.

"Unselfish" is the word Centro Hispano volunteer Delmy Trujillo used to describe Guzman, saying she is best when she is "discovering what people are going through, identifying with them and then giving service."

"When there are sometimes obstacles in the way," Trujillo said, "it may take her a little time, but she goes one place, to another place to find open doors for the people, so they can find a solution to their problems."

Trujillo said she couldn't help but want to volunteer at Centro Hispano once she saw Guzman's dedication, which she described as nonstop.

"She has little by little, every year built that bridge from one community to the other one so that both communities can understand one another," she said. "That's the purpose of Centro Hispano."

Newly appointed Centro Hispano Executive Director Teresa Tavares said following someone like Guzman at Centro Hispano is nigh unto impossible.

"I don't think we will ever have another Ingrid Guzman, with the dedication and the love that she has had through the years, to the betterment of the Hispanic community," she said.

While it may not be able to replace her, Centro Hispano plans to continue what Guzman started.

"Centro Hispano is going to continue providing these services, hopefully, with the same quality and love that she always did," Tavares said. "Because we want to continue her legacy of service and her legacy of caring."


E-mail: jdavis@desnews.com