CentroNía has been an institution in the metropolitan region for over 30 years, with programs that help thousands of low-income families and hopes to expand with a new location in the county. (Courtesy Photo)

TAKOMA PARK – CentroNía has been an institution in the metropolitan region for over 30 years, with programs that help thousands of low-income families and hopes to expand with a new location in the county.

The organization aids in various aspects of everyday life for a community that comprises mostly Latinos and African Americans, working in a multicultural and bilingual environment. It opened its first location in Columbia Heights, D.C. in 1986 in response to the need for affordable childcare in the community.

Initially hosting 15 children in a church basement, the organization has grown to two locations in the District and one in Takoma Park. The Takoma Park location opened in 2007, “to serve the growing immigrant communities in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County,” according to CentroNía.

CentroNia consists of four programs, all to succeed in their mission of “educating children and youth and strengthening families, in a bilingual, multicultural environment.” The organization’s programs are early childhood education, food and wellness, community engagement and education and the organization’s CentroNia Institute.

Community engagement is one of the largest parts of CentroNía, which seeks to assist in the reaches of the classroom. Activities such as book fairs and non-educational activities exist to foster a connection between parents and their children’s education.

The organization has also been awarded the USDA’s HealthierUs School Challenge Gold Award and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Silver Award for their work on educating parents about food and wellness.

“They feel like they are part of their child’s education, not just dropping them off,” said Lenora Maffei, who teaches three and four-year-old children for CentroNía.

Academically, the organization helps students prepare for kindergarten with their early childhood education program. According to its staff, the program has earned praise from area schools as well.

“They are prepared for kindergarten,” said Michelle Castañeda, a teacher at CentroNia. “These are the students that help the others.”

The child care program helps families with tight schedules, according to Castañeda, allowing them to go to school or to work. In effect, the family unit can prosper by mitigating the burden of childcare.

This effective approach to childcare has skyrocketed CentroNía’s popularity, to a point that the waitlist for the Takoma Park location has surpassed 700 applicants. CentroNía’s Maryland Director Rosalba Bonilla-Acosta said she sees this as anything but a good thing. The demand for quality childcare in Montgomery County is there, but the supply is not.

“It’s disappointing and sad that we have so many families on our waitlist,” said Bonilla-Acosta.

“That’s about the average; the demand is huge, and there are simply not enough providers,” said CentroNía President and CEO Myrna Peralta.

The demand for childcare led the county to establish a joint proposal between CentroNía and the Martha B. Gudelsky Child Development Center to develop the old Silver Spring Library location as another childcare location. According to the project schedule, the new location is set to open in September 2019. 

According to Peralta, the new site could serve approximately 150 children, and she is hoping that the center can open in the next 18 months. Peralta also said that CentroNía is looking at opportunities upcounty as well as researching properties in Prince George’s County that could be viable childcare centers.

“We have a lot of plans for Montgomery County,” said Peralta. “We have a site at Takoma Park, and it is bursting at the seams.”

Bonilla-Acosta sees child care as a universal right, an option that should be available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status. She points out that child care is expensive, but that the conversation cannot be centered on just low-income families.

“It needs to be seen more as a society thing. How do we make sure every child has the same right to early childhood education,” said Bonilla-Acosta.

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