Small salary draws big focus

Parade magazine issue highlights the director of the Centro Latino.
Sunday, March 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:17 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Today’s issue of Parade magazine, the annual survey of “What People Earn” includes a face familiar to anyone who knows anything about the Latino community in Columbia — that of Eduardo Crespi, director of the Centro Latino.

Parade says “What People Earn” is one of its most popular articles among readers. But when the phone rang in Crespi’s office, he didn’t know what they were talking about.

“They said ‘Parade’, I said ‘What is that?’” Crespi said. He said a photographer arrived later and took photos.

Although he doesn’t get a cover position (the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants does), his smiling face is among those inside.

His job title and salary? “Public Health Administrator, $25,000.”

Crespi compared his salary to others’ as he skimmed the magazine last week. “Look,” he said, pointing to a community organizer from Rhode Island who makes $49,000 per year. “I bet he is not even bilingual.”

In Parade’s annual survey, Wayne Burton, a NASA scientist, can be found next to Lola Paterson, a flower shop owner. Professions listed include everything from actress to tow-boat captain.

For more than five years, Crespi, 47, has been the director of the Centro Latino, which offers health services, translation and language courses, among other things, to Columbia’s Hispanic population. And it’s all free, except the language courses.

Crespi estimated that he works 65 hours per week for the Centro, making an equivalent of less than $8 per hour.

Lisa Brininstool, a Centro volunteer, said she thinks Crespi is underpaid. He sometimes works 12-hour night shifts as a nurse in area hospitals to support his wife, Barbara Brockman, and daughter, Nicole.

He said that with the combined income from the Centro and hospitals — about $50,000 last year, he “doesn’t worry about money.” But for Crespi, the Centro is more than making a living.

Crespi came up with the idea for the Centro as a project for MU’s Civic Leaders Internship Program. He started recognizing the need for an institution that would help Missouri’s growing Hispanic community adjust to American life. After accepting a volunteer position with the Office of Minority Health, he said he was given a cubicle and a desk.

But Crespi isn’t fond of staying in one spot for long. “I said, ‘I cannot sit here. I need to go out and do the work,’” he said.

After leaving the Office of Minority Health, Crespi drew up plans to create the Centro in Columbia. On April 1, 2000, Crespi opened Columbia’s first and only Hispanic resource center in Parkade Center.

Today, the Centro continues as part of Crespi’s desire to have a “physical presence” in serving the community. The organization recently moved its offices from the Parkade Center to 206 Austin Ave.

“I am committed to myself, mainly, and I want to see this succeed,” he said.

He likes the nature of the work. “It is stressless,” he said. “When you do good, what kind of stress is there? Nothing.”

Crespi wrote the book on how to start a resource center — kind of. The evidence is in a tattered, bright yellow and purple notebook containing scribbled doodles and notes that document how the Centro got its start.

“It’s a model for other communities to follow. It’s a whole new movement for health, education and social justice,” he said. So far, Crespi has used his Columbia model to help start similar centers in Milan, Marshall and Lake of the Ozarks.

Funding has always been a problem. Crespi said there was a time when he ran the Centro and received no salary. Two years ago, he invested $15,000 from his own pocket to keep it running. No matter what, he said, he will always find a way to provide free health services to the Hispanic population in Columbia.

“That will always happen, as long as I am alive,” he said.

As busy as he is, Crespi doesn’t own a cell phone or a personal organizer. “I tried that once,” he said. “It didn’t work out.”

He prefers meditation to help him prioritize throughout the day. “I meditate two and a half hours a day,” he said. “It’s the first thing I do (in the morning) and then the last thing I do.”

As for the attention in Parade, Crespi doesn’t mind telling people how much money he makes. “I don’t care,” he said. “People can know that. I wish I could say that I make more.”

As he looked through the magazine, Crespi joked about changing professions. “Angelina Jolie, $27 million,” he said. “I should become an actor.”

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