CentroNía was among VPP’s earliest investments, and their partnership has helped shape both organizations. Today, CentroNía is an award-winning nonprofit bringing affordable education and family support services to more than 2,400 children and families across the Washington Metro Area.
Myrna Peralta, Beatriz “BB” Otero, and Carol Thompson Cole of VPP tell the story from the beginning.
Myrna Peralta – President and CEO, CentroNía: The vision for CentroNía came out of this community, and if you knew this community when we started, it certainly is nothing like what it is today. There was a huge, huge need for quality childcare for working families; BB responded to it. In doing so, she really connected with the community in a way that no one before her had done.
That vision of a community built on strong families and quality education has never changed, but the community here has. Fast-forward to the present and those communities have dispersed. Because of it, we’ve had to think about how we balance our role as an anchor in this community and our mission to serve these families throughout the Region.
BB Otero – Founder, CentroNía: VPP came to us at a time when there was potential to grow, and I thought we needed to scale.
Carol Thompson Cole– President and CEO, VPP: We learned about CentroNía through a youth development pilot program. People in that community all knew about the great work BB was doing and that got us interested.
BB: What VPP brought was an opportunity to infuse resources into the organization that weren’t geared towards programs. They were about building the organization as a whole, which is really rare.
Carol: Initially we focused on CentroNía’s financial management and reporting, as well as diversifying their fundraising. I brought VPP team members along with me to staff meetings, and I joined their board as the VPP representative. I really felt like I became a part of the organization through that process.
BB: Having VPP help us analyze our finances, analyze data around outcomes for kids, and think about those aspects of the organization that needed reinforcement in order for us to grow was huge.
Carol: I think one of the strongest things that happened was when we brought in a group to do some cost effectiveness and efficiency analysis, which really helped us improve and streamline the administrative process throughout the organization. I think that’s a real example of an infrastructure and capacity building investment.
BB: Whether you’re growing a family or scaling an organization, you’ve got to strengthen the infrastructure. We certainly had some disagreements on how to do that, but ultimately we were able to build the strength and talent of our team—whether it was in the finance office, HR, or leadership across programs—to allow the organization to grow.
Myrna: Expansion would not have been possible had it not been for the belief that we could do it, and that belief came from the work we did with VPP. It showed all the leadership at CentroNía that with the proper strategy, all things are possible. The staff’s willingness to own that was really important and it was a direct outcome of VPP’s investment.
Carol: We had very honest conversations, and I had honest conversations with her team. We were able to have a very good push and pull. Over time, their board started to understand their fiduciary responsibilities, and the board development work we did brought in a number of new members that had a diversification of areas of expertise that the organization needed.
BB: I go back to the issue of trust and relationships, because when Carol came to our board as the VPP representative, she brought a gravitas and was of a caliber of board member that we very much needed. VPP realized that if we were to succeed, I needed somebody who I respected and could challenge me.
Carol: BB was always very focused on building capacity and getting results, as well as staying true to the community and the families and children that they were serving. Her leadership, tenacity, and vision for building capacity really stood out to us, and during the course of our investment, I saw her grow as the organization grew.
BB: When Carol talks about watching me grow, it was really the result of having the opportunity to face challenges and develop my capacity as a leader. I had to grow and I also had to develop a strong board along with me. These are the things that weren’t specifically written as an impact of the investment, but it really is what leadership development means in terms of strategic investment in an organization.
Carol: Something that VPP learned during this investment is that it isn’t enough for us to be smart people with money. We had to demonstrate that we brought value. We had to become a trusted advisor.
BB: If VPP is interested in investing in your organization, be sure that you are not entering the partnership because you’re chasing dollars, but rather because you have clarity about where you’re headed, and how an investment—a long-term investment—would get you there.
Carol: I think one of the things that I started to understand as we got to the end of the first portfolio is that a successful investment is really evident three to five years beyond the investment. The fact that CentroNía’s management team is still solid, and the organization continues to grow, is a hallmark of success.
BB: At the end of the investment, not only did we meet our outcomes, but five years, seven years down the road, we can look back and see that the VPP investment helped build the infrastructure, and provided the nimbleness and the ability to adapt and to change and grow—allowing us to continue to play a leadership role in our field.
Myrna: That is very true. I go back to 2011. That year was brutal. The housing market was in chaos, jobs were being lost, cars being repossessed; our own capacity to fundraise was damaged. So how do you try to stabilize as much as you can while continuing to support the child—a child whose world remains basically the same? The recession challenged us, our commitment to our relatively new structure and our commitment to expansion.
It looked messy for a while, but the strategic plan and organizational capacity that came out of the VPP work served as a strong foundation during that time. We survived the recession despite some real financial challenges because we had systems in place that were flexible enough and yet gave us a real framework to make it through.
You can measure the impact of VPP’s investment by the number of additional children and families that we’re serving, of course. But just as important, VPP’s work gave us the stability to ride out the tough times. I don’t know how you put a price on that.