While most students are enjoying their summer vacations and spending some time with friends, at age 16, Brian is working hard to achieve an important goal: “give [his] mom a better life”. Brian, a CentroNía alumnus, is currently a junior at Woodrow Wilson High School and this is the second summer he returns to volunteer at the place he calls home, CentroNía.

Brian’s parents immigrated from El Salvador at a very young age and made their home in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. When Brian and his three siblings were born, they all attended the CentroNía program starting off as infants through their adolescent years. Both of Brian’s parents worked long hours in order to afford rent and other expenses. They desperately needed affordable and trustworthy childcare for their young children.

At that time, 30 years ago, Brian’s mom, Luz Angelica heard about a new early childhood education center, CentroNía. She met with Founder Beatriz ‘BB’ Otero, and before long she was convinced that CentroNía was the right place for her newborn. Fifteen years later, Brian was born and his mother knew exactly where he would go to learn and grow during those early years of very critical development. Brian was enrolled in CentroNía at three months and continued on to complete Pre-K and then enrolled in the out-of-school time program throughout elementary school. He describes his time at CentroNía as amazing, energetic, and playful.

“CentroNía taught me that play and discipline can go hand-in-hand” Brian says. Today, Brian is preparing for college with the plan to study software engineering. As he looks back, he admits that not everything was very easy for him growing up. His parents divorced when he was 3 years old.

“Without CentroNía, life would have been more challenging and difficult for my mother. While she worked to provide for me and my brother, she knew I was in a safe place. She didn’t have to stress out.” he says.

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When Brian is not volunteering, he often comes to CentroNía to pick up his niece (pictured above) who is currently enrolled in Studio R.O.C.K.S., an out-of-school time enrichment program.

As Brian reflects, he understands that his life goals would have been different had he not attended CentroNía. “Throughout my life I’ve met many people my age that grew up in unstable households. They probably never had a place where they could learn, grow, and socialize while their parents worked. Many of these people are now on the streets getting in trouble—jeopardizing their future.”

This is the second year Brian has volunteered for CentroNía’s Studio R.O.C.K.S. Summer Camp. For Brian, this is a great way to gain beneficial work experience for his college application and beyond. He isn’t just here for the experience though, Brian is passionate about being a part of his community—especially at CentroNía where he has so many fond memories.

Brian remembers one of his favorite lessons from Mr. Ricky, a beloved pre-k teacher at CentroNía. The activity was to build a bridge, which sounded simple at the time, but grew to mean much more. This memory is so vivid for Brian because for him, CentroNía was the bridge that connected him to lifelong friends, taught him about the world, prepared him for school, and, most importantly, opened the doors to a community he would cherish for the rest of his life. Dedicating his summer to support younger students’ education and growth is extremely important for Brian and his vision for being a successful and contributing community citizen.

“The sense of belonging I felt at CentroNía inspires me to be a good citizen for my community. It’s exciting for me to now be serving in the place that gave so much” he concludes.