PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) – At a young age, George Fernandez had to quickly adapt to America, and begin translating for his family to advocate for their basic needs and health care. That’s why he created Latino Connection, a group focused on reaching underserved communities.

“My mother’s challenges and my childhood have essentially become the backbone and the purpose of why I started Latino Connection,” Fernandez said.

Latino Connection is bridging the gap between health care, education, government services and the Latino community.

“[It’s] helping people connect to a provider, helping people find that medicine, helping people find that job, helping people find a bank account or savings account, and connect to those opportunities that can help improve their lives, that is what drives us,” Fernandez said.

“I like to call it the puente. It’s creating that bridge of connection for greater access and opportunity for the communities here in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Fernandez, the president and CEO of Latino Connection, came to America with his family at just 8 years old.

“I’m a product of a single mother of three, a survivor of domestic violence, so I had to grow up at a very young age and I had to become the interpreter at age 9. I remember telling my mother that she had a health condition that, perhaps as a kid, I didn’t have to be the person to translate that for my mom,” Fernandez said.

He knew he wanted to help kids like him, so he created Latino Connection in 2015. During the pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of Health funded the company to launch a COVID-19 mobile response unit called Community-Accessible Testing and Education, or CATE.

Partnering with local providers, health centers and hospital systems, CATE administered over 40,000 vaccines to hard-to-reach communities. During that time, Fernandez witnessed another barrier to healthcare.

“We started seeing a common denominator that people couldn’t worry about their health because they were worried about where they were going to live two, three, four, five months from now,” he said.

That’s how Fernandez Realty Group was created. With a groundbreaking last fall, Sycamore Homes in Harrisburg will soon offer nearly two dozen affordable housing apartments.

“If people don’t have a place that is safe and accessible to live in, to sleep in, how can they focus on anything else?”

Fernandez said his path to creating Latino Connection wasn’t easy. He heard a lot of “no” in the beginning, but that didn’t stop him from following his passion.

“Looking back and overcoming those challenges, I laugh at those challenges today, but ultimately the reason why I’m doing this is to help close those gaps in care,” he said.