CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Even though she doesn't speak English, Mary Cruz Valdez's smile spoke volumes when she looked at her new passport, a document she was able to obtain thanks to the Mexican Consulate's visit to Jefferson County.
Watching as her friend scanned the information contained on it, Linda Nathan also smiled and said, "I will be back here tomorrow getting my passport, because mine is expired." Both women agreed this local option was quicker and less expensive than having to go to Washington, D.C., for this service.
Vice consul Marines Cervantes said the recent local visit by five consulate staffers is part of a new program that started in March.
"We call it a consulate on wheels, and we have personnel going to even more places. Our service is even bigger now," she said.
Outreach work under this program is taking place in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland, Cervantes said. It's a way for Mexican citizens to get a photo ID and passport without having to go to Washington, D.C., she said.
She said consulate officials had previously visited Charles Town about two years ago when they spent time at St. James Catholic Church. "But that was different because we only did it on weekends. Now we are out for the people on weekdays," Cervantes said.
Although the morning was a little slow, everyone with an appointment showed up and officials estimate that they may see as many as 300 people during this visit.
Maria Perez, speaking through a friend, said she was pleased by this service.
"It is good, very good and also has been efficient," said Perez, as she examined her new passport.
Consulate officials worked out of the Charles Town BB&T Bank off U.S. 340.
David Ramos, BB&T assistant vice president and regional multicultural markets officer, smiled as he provided a tour of the building's second floor where men, women and children were receiving assistance. In addition to the government documents, visitors could also receive financial and banking information from associates, as well as get medical information and have their blood pressure checked by Walgreens staffers.
In one waiting room, children happily watched videos as older family members reviewed paperwork they had brought along with them.
"This isn't new to us because in all of our markets — Atlanta, Florida, Texas and even Washington, D.C. — we have a relationship with the consulate, as well as other organizations in the community. And we try to help as many organizations as possible that are helping the community, because also like to get involved," Ramos said.
As part of his corporate duties, Ramos said he enjoys meeting people and learning more about diversity. For example, there's the growing Hispanic population in the Eastern Panhandle, as well as a lot of Ethiopian and Eritrean families who now live in Silver Spring, Maryland.
"Providing the space for this fits well into our mission of helping the communities that we serve. Financial literacy is important for all citizens, regardless of their nationality. If we build better citizens, we will have better communities," he said.
Amanda Ryder, who manages BB&T's multicultural office in Martinsburg, off Edwin Miller Boulevard, said it is the only multicultural banking center in the state.
This facility has marketing materials in Spanish, as well as an "outside banner in Spanish that invites people to come into our office," she said, adding that she's also in the process of hiring a bilingual employee.
Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/