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Jake Romero knows employers in Billings who will pay $14 an hour for entry-level workers, but there's a catch: the employee must have a high school diploma.

To people in the Billings community, though, and particularly members of its Hispanic population, Romero wants to spread the word that there are resources available to help them obtain more education, get better jobs and otherwise improve their lives.

"A lot of people feel like there is nothing there for them," said Romero. "But there is hope."

Romero is a member of the Billings Hispanic Development Outreach Committee, a new group committed to linking minorities with available resources. The group's first event will be an outreach fair where employers from the public and private sectors will be recruiting workers, bankers will be on hand to discuss loans and mortgages, educators will detail schooling options, and information on other community services will be available.

Called "In Our Community," the fair will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Garfield School gymnasium at 3212 First Ave. S. A free meal will be offered to all participants.

The Hispanic community in Billings is growing and numbers nearly 3,800 people, or 4 percent of the population, according to a yearly estimate done in February by an economist with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"We learned that the Hispanic population will actually outpace the Native American population in Billings in the next several years," said Lyle Konkol, a HUD employee and one of the organizers of Saturday's event.

The same census estimate shows that 29 percent of Hispanics in Billings live in poverty, compared with 12 percent of Caucasians and 35 percent of American Indians.

Although the group's event comes at a politically charged time, when discussions about immigration policy flood the papers and airwaves, Konkol wants people to know that's not why this event is planned.

"We started planning for this six or eight months ago, before all this immigration stuff started," he said. "Basically, I don't have a position on immigration."

"This is a community thing," he said.

And it's about helping people find resources, Romero stressed. "It's just information for people to know there's help out there," he said.

Contact Anne Pettinger at apettinger@billingsgazette.com or 657-1241.

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