Catholic Charities opens new center for adult education

JAMAICA PLAIN -- For over 60 years, Catholic Charities' El Centro Adult Education Center has offered classes and academic services to newly arrived immigrants, helping them to quickly reach their educational and career goals.

This mission was celebrated on March 23 as students, alumni, staff, and supporters of El Centro gathered for the grand opening of their new, expanded facilities in Jamaica Plain, allowing them to continue and expand their crucial work.

"For many of our students, educational attainment is much more than improved job prospects: it means a newly found self-respect, a personal accomplishment, and a dream come true," said Marianna Geraskina, El Centro's director of education.

Geraskina was one of the speakers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Catholic Charities President Kevin MacKenzie, and several alumni of El Centro.

Located near Jackson Square and the MBTA's Orange Line, in a building that houses other nonprofits, the new facilities include spacious, well-lit classrooms and conference rooms equipped with SmartBoards. Students will have access to computers for every class.

All of El Centro's services are offered free of charge. Among these are intensive, results-oriented English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction, and a new IT/Cyber Security training program for students preparing for careers in technology.

One of the alumni who spoke at the ribbon-cutting was Ilsi Hernandez. After coming to the U.S. with her husband and children, Catholic Charities helped her family transition into their new lives. Hernandez improved her English at El Centro and worked her way up from cashier to supervisor at the store where she worked. She is now a student at Bunker Hill Community College, and that week began a new job as a student support counselor at El Centro.

"I have the opportunity to help those who, like me, need support and care in their new home country," Hernandez said.

She said two ingredients are necessary for success: perseverance and passion.

"I want to say to all of our students: you are not alone. Here, you have a family to help you and assist you with all your concerns. Welcome to this awesome new home of El Centro," she said.

Mayor Wu delivered her remarks in both English and Spanish.

"For centuries, Boston has been a gateway to the world, and for more than six decades, El Centro has welcomed our newest residents with open arms," she said.

She acknowledged that it was a personal moment for her, since her parents were immigrants, and several El Centro alumni now work for the City of Boston.

"To know that there's a center here for any of our newest families to have a place to start, to have a landing pad, a home, a family, that means so much. And we know that, in fact, it's not just our newest immigrant families who benefit from that. Our entire city benefits when our residents feel connected and get what they need right away," Mayor Wu said.

MacKenzie spoke about Catholic Charities' four core service areas: Basic Needs; Family and Youth Services; Refugee and Immigrant Services; and Adult Education and Workforce Development.

"To the students who are here with us today: you should be very proud of the hard work you put into this program. I hope you enjoy all that this new space has to offer, and that it already feels like home. We all wish you continued success," MacKenzie said.

El Centro alum Fiona Ruth Jeanty Bazil talked about her experience when she came to the U.S. six years ago. While her ambition was to go to college, she only heard discouragement from the people around her. But her husband introduced her to El Centro, which she called "the school of opportunities."

"Since day one, all I heard was, 'You can do it. Follow your dream. It is possible. Let's work on it,'" she said.

Though she had no money, El Centro helped her with ESOL and college preparation. They helped her find her first job, and she became a certified teacher in less than a year. She now works at Horizons for Homeless Children, which is located in the same building as El Centro.

"I am so glad that the community continues to sustain El Centro so other new immigrants can benefit from this fantastic program," Bazil said.

The last El Centro alum to speak was Ciro Valiente of Latinos for Education. He came to the U.S. from Venezuela in 2014 as a young journalist with "very basic" English skills. Since then, he has worked for several different media outlets and won a New England Emmy Award.

He recalled that nine years ago, he was like the students present, sitting and listening to the El Centro teachers, often not understanding what they said.

"However, I never stopped learning, and I never stopped dreaming of a better life. I tell my story today as a testament to the power of education and hard work. And the most important reason (is) I'm not the only one. There are many who have changed their lives thanks to El Centro," Valiente said.

Speaking from her 20 years working for El Centro, Geraskina noted that it was her third time moving to a new location with them.

"Every building is better and bigger than it was. And the dreams of our students' accomplishments are bigger and better all the time. And I hope that this wonderful space will elevate the dreams even more, and will allow us to break more glass ceilings," she said.

The ribbon-cutting was followed by a reception with food provided by Latin American restaurants run by El Centro alumni and students.

More information about El Centro Adult Education Center is available at