Herndon is the fifth most densely population community in Virginia and home to a diverse population. Approximately 20% of the population is represented by immigrants from Central and South American countries, India, Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries. Without a comprehensive human service agency located in Herndon and cutbacks of school-funded homework and mentoring programs, there was a critical need to serve the growing immigrant population, particularly children at risk of social and academic failure due to language barriers.
Vecinos Unidos grew out of a Herndon Town Council task force formed in 1992 and experienced a rebirth in 1996 when Captain Darryl Smith, longtime Herndon resident and 25-year veteran of the Herndon Police Department, became chairman of the group. To increase visibility and participation, meetings were moved to a donated office in an apartment complex, Elden Terrace, which is located in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. In April 1997, a homework assistance program opened. Currently, between 40 and 50 children attend three evenings per week, with regular attendees showing improved grades and behavior at school. More than 80% of the 200 children living in the area have participated in Vecinos Unidos programs.
Initially, Smith recruited a handful of volunteer tutors from other civic organizations, Elden Terrace staff and the local high school. Today, an average of 15 volunteers participates each evening. They are of diverse ages, cultures and professions.
In addition, Vecinos Unidos, sponsors a Girl Scout Troop at Elden Terrace, collects and distributes clothing to families, organizes and assists in a county-sponsored free lunch program for children in the summer and operates a health education and screening program conducted by a student nurse. This screening program has resulted in the detection of significant vision and hearing problems in children.
Local businesses have donated many computers to use in the homework office and to be distributed to households. In turn, Vecinos Unidos has donated a few computers to another community in Fairfax, VA to replicate the homework program. In February 1999, a second homework office was opened in Herndon and a third is soon to follow.