Human InterestThe White Plains Examiner

Founding Executive Director of El Centro Hispano in WP Dies at 74

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Isabel Elsa Villar, founding Executive Director of El Centro Hispano in White Plains, died July 12 after battling ovarian cancer for the last 15 years. She was 74.

Born in Cuba, she resided in White Plains for the last 57 years. She immigrated to the United States with her family in 1966. After enrolling at White Plains High School, she was immediately sensitized to the problems newcomers face because of the language barrier and cultural differences.

In 1974, she co-founded El Centro Hispano in White Plains. The community organization offers a variety of programs to Hispanic residents of White Plains and Westchester County. The programs currently offered by El Centro Hispano help change the lives of their clients through education, technology, support services, cultural events, outreach, counseling and empowerment, and through special activities. They include but are not limited to English as a Second Language; High School Equivalency Prep; Citizenship classes; all levels of computer classes for adults, tutorial services for children in k-12; scholarships for graduating high school students; a stipend program for college and high school students tutoring children in all our educational programs; educational and informational workshops; semimonthly food distribution; legal and Affordable Care Program assistance; free health services, as well as translation services and assistance in finding housing and looking for employment.

From its inception in 1974 El Centro Hispano was housed at St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church in White Plains. The support of the parish over the years enabled the fledging organization to not only survive but to grow and flourish. When circumstances changed in early 2020, it became clear that Centro Hispano needed a new home. Even though plagued by health problems, Villar devoted her last years to making that dream a reality. Thanks to her vision and hard work, as well as the support of many individuals and community organizations, in June of 2022 El Centro Hispano purchased a building on Central Ave. in White Plains. Renovations took almost a year, but on June 26 2023, El Centro Hispano opened its doors and began serving the Hispanic community in its new location.

Throughout her long and distinguished career, Villar was not only co-host of the Centro Hispano cable TV program, “El Centro Hispano Informa,” but she served on numerous committees, councils and advisory boards. Her voice and influence reached far beyond her own community. She was honored with 42 different awards over the years. A few of those that were especially meaningful to her were The Statue of Liberty Award, the Americanism Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Women of Distinction Award from the New York State Senate, The Caring New Yorker Award from Fidelis Care New York Liberty at the Madison Square Garden arena , the Harold Fitzpatrick Community Leadership Award from the African American Men of Westchester and the Business Council of Westchester, The AJC Westchester/Fairfield Woman of Valor Award and the Westchester County Board of Legislator for her outstanding contributions and civic activities in Westchester County as the Founding Director of El Centro Hisano.

She was proud to be inducted into the White Plains High School Hall of Fame, the YWCA Hall of Fame, and the Westchester Senior Citizens Hall of Fame. A very special moment was having a section of Lexington Ave. in White Plains renamed Isabel Elsa Villar Boulevard in her honor in October of 2013.

Villar was also a teacher and guidance counselor. According to her obituary, she loved life and her spirit was indomitable. No matter how busy, she still found time for her two great passions, travel and music, sometimes combining them. She traveled to 102 countries and islands, some of them more than once, and she always had her next trip lined up. Isabel had a lovely voice and enjoyed singing, sometimes accompanying herself on the piano. She delighted wedding guests in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Spain, and Italy, along with New York, Connecticut and Florida with her rendition of Ave Maria, and she never missed an opportunity to sing along with street musicians wherever she was. From 1966–2020, she was director of the Spanish choir at St. Bernard’s Church in White Plains.


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