“Each day, you deliver your child into the gentle and loving arms of people who pay attention to the spirit of children,” says Carmen Ramos Watson, a CentroNía parent and member of the board. “It (CentroNía) becomes a part of who the kids are and who you are.”
In 1986, CentroNía was created to meet the need for affordable, quality early-childhood education for children of working families in the multi-ethnic Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. The center started with a group of 15 children, and as they grew, the center provided after-school care and help with homework. Over the years, when the children became teenagers and needed a place where they could be creative and productive, the center embraced those needs too. The center also created opportunities for parents to learn skills for creating better lives for their families. “It is not a place you grow out of. It grows with you,” says Watson.
Investment Fact Sheet
1420 Columbia Road, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Founded in 1986
Founder, Executive Director: Beatriz (BB) Otero
Chair of the Board: Joanne Williams
Mission and History
The mission of CentroNía (formerly Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center) is “to create a community of learning for children, youth, families, and staff.”
BB Otero founded the learning center in 1986 as a childcare center for 15 children and housed it in a local church. The organization grew organically in the Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, developing new programs to meet the growing needs of children and families. The learning center now provides programs for hundreds of infants, children, youth, and their families. Many “CentroNía kids” have grown up in the center and several high school graduates and college students return to work or volunteer there.
In 1995, Bell Atlantic donated a boarded-up switching station to the learning center. The center quickly renovated a small part of the building to move into and then in 2000 raised approximately $2.3 million of the $5.6 million renovation cost (the balance was a Community Development Block Grant and a bank loan) to completely renovate the 73,000-square-foot facility, which today includes a childcare center, a dance studio, a community technology lab, a commercial kitchen, and a rooftop playground (as well as three nonprofit tenants).
- Learning Center includes a full day infant/toddler and preschool program, and a comprehensive out of school time development program for school age children and youth.
- Family/Community Development provides parent workshops, resources and referrals, evening and weekend tutoring, and literacy training for school age children and adults as well as other adult education courses. This program includes the SPARK initiative which aims at supporting school readiness for three-year-old children.
- Professional Development Academy provides parents and community members with training opportunities such as the Child Development Associate credential (CDA).
- DC Bilingual Public Charter School - In the fall of 2004, the school, directed by a board of directors and managed by CentroNía, began offering a full bilingual academic program to 122 pre-school and kindergarten children. DCBPCS will grow by one grade per year reaching fifth grade in 2009.
Myrna Y. Peralta is the Acting President & CEO of CentroNía, a community-based and nationally recognized child development center committed to educating children and youth, and strengthening families, in a bilingual, multicultural community.
Prior to coming to CentroNía, Ms. Peralta was President and Co-Founder of ALTA Consulting Group, a women-owned, Hispanic and African American firm focused on strategic planning, policy development, program evaluation, leadership training, and resource development in the fields of social services, education, health, housing, and community development.
Over the last 20 years Ms. Peralta has worked for non-profit organizations, for-profit companies and government agencies. She has had the great fortune of working with a variety of organizations, including serving as Deputy Director of the Center for Community Change, and with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
In the 1980’s, Ms. Peralta worked for the American Red Cross for almost 10 years at the local, national and international levels, first as Director of Services to Families for the Washington, DC Chapter and ending her career there as an Associate at the International Services Office in Washington, DC. During her years with the Red Cross she became an expert on disaster relief operations and International Humanitarian Law.
Ms. Peralta has a Masters Degree in Social Work and a Law Degree from Georgetown University Law Center. Her continuing education has included a United Way/Annie E. Casey fellowship at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Community College of the District of Columbia.
Ms. Peralta is a strong believer in community service as evidenced by her many years as a past Board Member of various organizations including the United Way of the National Capital Area, the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, and current service as a Trustee of the DC Public Library.
She has lived in the District of Columbia for almost 35 years and, although her Caribbean roots run deep, she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Dennis Davison, CentroNía Board Chair, focuses on real estate development, business transactions and related litigation/arbitration. He represents owner/developers and lenders with respect to major office buildings, luxury hotels, large condominiums and apartment complexes, sports stadiums, water treatment facilities and other premier real estate projects.
Mr. Davison counsels and advises clients in real estate and general business strategies and structures. He negotiates, prepares and counsels on the administration of a broad range of transaction agreements, such as: buy/sell agreements; brokerage agreements; acquisition and construction loans; demolition and environmental remediation agreements; design and construction contracts; partnership, joint venture and LLC operating agreements; office building and retail leases; SNDAs; project management agreements; and refinancing agreements. His commercial civil litigation and arbitration experience includes contract, design, construction and business disputes in both federal and state courts.
Please note: this Investment Summary represents VPP's perspective at the time of the investment agreement, February, 2004, as well as CentroNía's former name Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center.
In February, 2004, VPP entered into a multi-year investment partnership with Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center (which has since changed its name to CentroNía), a dynamic organization that provides a wide range of family services to residents in the multi-ethnic neighborhoods of Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, Shaw, and Adams Morgan in Washington, DC. The core of Calvary’s offerings is childcare and after-school programs, and youth development for 400 children from infancy through high school. Through this investment partnership, VPP will provide significant funding and strategic assistance that will help Calvary achieve its aspiration of becoming the premier educational leader for bilingual, multicultural children in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, expanding its services to serve new families and communities by 2009.
VPP will provide funding up to $2,200,000 over a four-year period to Calvary and will augment this funding with significant strategic assistance to the organization during that time. This brings VPP’s financial commitment to Calvary to a total of $2,420,000, including the $220,000 provided for the development of their comprehensive strategic plan. Under the terms of this agreement, $600,000 in funding will be disbursed to Calvary in the first year, with the remaining $1,600,000 in funding contingent upon Calvary’s achievement of annual milestones over the remaining three years of the investment partnership.
Calvary plans to expand from a single facility in Columbia Heights that currently serves 400 children and 250 adults, to managing child development programs, charter schools, and adult learning services in at least three additional sites, ultimately reaching 1,600 children and 800 adults over the next six years. This expansion plan includes serving new neighborhoods in the District and the region. The specific aspirations and objectives of Calvary’s strategic plans are to: 1) establish charter schools in two locations in the District of Columbia, 2) recruit key management and staff, 3) establish new governance structures related to its expansion plan, 4) define and implement strategies to finance the organization’s growth, and 5) implement an outcomes framework to assess program effectiveness and contribute to ongoing management.
Key factors that underpin the thinking behind our investment in Calvary include:
Social impact: Calvary’s service area encompasses the following neighborhoods: Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, Adams Morgan, and Shaw. Its constituents are low-to-moderate income working families, many headed by single parents. The neighborhoods served by Calvary are predominantly Latino, African-American, and multiracial. Children who receive Calvary’s services benefit in a number of ways including:
a. improved readiness for school;
b. access to a safe, nurturing environment that prepares them to understand and adapt to cultural and linguistic differences in America; and
c. exposure to a creative learning environment that encompasses the creative arts and technology.
Demonstrated performance: Calvary has a 16-year track record of delivering youth and family services to a diverse constituency. Its reputation, particularly in its delivery of early-childhood and out-of-school programs, is excellent. Several young adults who attended Calvary as youngsters now have their children enrolled in the program; others have returned to work or volunteer at the center. Calvary has a formula for success. The model is to provide programming that engages the family throughout the child’s development from birth through the 12th grade. Despite more than doubling the number of children served in three years, there is a substantial waiting list for enrollment in Calvary’s programs. Supported by a Kellogg grant, Calvary is in the process of documenting its model so that it can be packaged and shared with others.
Future aspirations: Calvary plans to build on its reputation and demonstrated performance in underserved, multi-ethnic communities to become a market leader. Calvary’s future goals include increasing the level of services provided to its current constituency as well as taking those services into other neighborhoods with similar demographics. Calvary is anxious to partner with others to expand its service delivery. In the first stage of expansion, it is looking at nearby organizations like the Carlos Rosario Charter School and the Dance Institute of Washington as partners for its early-childhood program. Partner organizations in other neighborhoods have not yet been identified, although Calvary’s executive director has made contacts and begun to explore ideas in neighborhoods including Petworth, Langley Park, Silver Spring, and South Arlington.
An investment in Calvary is likely to be successful in light of the following:
Longevity/sustainability: The organization has a track record that spans nearly two decades. It has a proven model for service delivery. It has already proven its ability to grow its organization and the breadth and depth of its services. In the most recent three-year period, Calvary has doubled its budget, staff size, and numbers served. Calvary’s executive director led a successful capital campaign to raise $2.3 million of the $5.6 million cost for completely renovating a 73,000-square-foot facility, transforming an abandoned building into a state-of-the-art facility that includes a childcare center, a dance studio, a community technology lab, a commercial kitchen, and a rooftop playground. The balance of the funds was secured through Community Development Block Grants and bank loans.
Leadership, management team, and board: Calvary has a competitive, charismatic, highly impassioned leader in Beatriz “BB” Otero, and one who has proven adept in managing rapid growth. She has grown Calvary from a grassroots “group of moms” effort housed in a local church basement to an organization with a staff of over 100, a 73,000-square-foot facility, and an annual budget of $4 million, providing a comprehensive range of services to an expanding constituent base. She has also shown strong leadership within the Latino community and among nonprofit organizations in the District of Columbia. Calvary has built a strong management team for its organizational stage, including a program director who is an authority in the area of child development, a finance director who is a CPA with corporate experience, an admin/ops director who is a home-grown product of the Calvary model, and a development director who has over 10 years experience in the nonprofit sector and a proven track record as a fund raiser. Calvary’s board is also diverse, effective, and engaged. The board’s chair, Chuck Bean, is executive director of the region’s new Nonprofit Roundtable.
Community support: Calvary is first and foremost a community organization—one that enjoys the support of the communities served and that takes special care to incorporate community resources. Calvary is especially proud of the extent to which critical staff have been recruited from the surrounding neighborhood.
Established relationship: Calvary was a partner organization in the Morino Institute’s Youth Development Collaborative (YDC) Pilot. Calvary worked in an intense relationship with the pilot staff from 1998 into 2001, so the groundwork for a trusting relationship has already been well established.
CentroNía is a stronger organization than it was in 2002. The organization is transforming from a community-based organization serving families in one site to a multi-site operation. Its effectiveness and sustainability have increased as well. By creating the Bilingual Charter School and a second site for its Early Childhood Program, the organization is increasingly serving more children in need in the region.
CentroNía's increased effectiveness resulted in more than tripling the number of children served over three years, rising from 322 to 1,133. CentroNía has expanded its services using an integrated approach in the new public Charter School, a new site in Maryland, the tutoring program in ten schools, and a new site serving 72 three- and four-year-old children. Other noteworthy accomplishments that contributed to improved capacity and increased effectiveness include:
Planning and Focus: Completed comprehensive strategic plan in December 2003, resulting in well-defined road map for program expansion and organizational capacity building.
Human Capital - Board and Management: Six new board members recruited who bring exceptional educational, business, legal, and development expertise. Established DC Bilingual Public Charter School Board. Strengthened management team with the recruitment of Program Manager and Human Resource Manager.
Capitalization/Revenue: Receipt of $500 thousand Families Count award from Annie E. Casey Foundation highlighted achievement on a national scale. Established bilingual charter school for early childhood and elementary education, securing continual revenue streams for 11% (122 of 1,122 students). Received $3.2 million bond, resulting in surplus revenue for the organization. Received earmarked funds for the past two years.
Process Improvements: Outside consultant, Center for Management and Technology, completed an extensive cost-effectiveness and efficiency analysis of all operational areas, including finance, client intake, development, and administration. The analysis resulted in a clear plan for improving and streamlining administration throughout the organization - including recommendations for organizational changes to increase performance and accountability organization-wide.
- Date, years, and stage of VPP Investment:
- November 2002; 6 years (complete)
- Capital committed and disbursed by VPP:
- $2,420,000 committed and funded
- Revenue increase & % budget growth:
- $6.9 to $13.1 million - 90% in four years
- Leveraged funding:
- $1.9 million
- Expansion to new places and coverage:
- 3 new sites and 10 new school-based programs
Growing Smart, Keeping Its Identity
From the day it opened its doors more than 20 years ago in a church basement, CentroNía has focused on improving the lives and opportunities of children and families living in low-income communities. Today, CentroNía is a nationally recognized, multicultural learning community which has pioneered an innovative and responsive approach to education that helps children, youth, and families achieve their goals.
In the more than two decades since its founding in 1986 by BB Otero, CentroNía has grown from a child care program serving 15 children to a multifaceted educational and family support center serving more than 2,500 children, youth, and families in underserved communities. It now operates a headquarters in Columbia Heights, 10 co-located sites in the District of Columbia, the center in Takoma Park, MD, and a bilingual charter school. CentroNía’s innovative programs promote bilingual fluency and draw power from the diversity of the communities they serve.
CentroNía has helped thousands of children and families dare to dream, and then given them the support to realize those dreams. And in the early 2000s, CentroNía as an organization had big dreams of its own—to take its work to new levels. The journey toward achieving its vision has been exhilarating and challenging. Throughout the process, however, CentroNía has remained true to its mission and core values to provide exceptional educational and family support services to a diverse population.
In the early 2000s, the leadership of CentroNía had fully embraced the idea of growth. More and more of its families were moving out of the city to suburban Maryland in search of affordable housing and jobs. As a result, CentroNía was feeling pressure from families to provide its services in suburban jurisdictions. Representatives from the local government and community groups in neighboring counties to DC, as well as within DC, were asking CentroNía to consider expansion.
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