Daily Point of Light # 2753 Aug 24, 2004

Whole families grow up and grow stronger at Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center. Often families first come for childcare, pre-school and after-school programs. Both parents and children may stay for classes or return as staff and become part of the Learning Center’s extended family.

Three-year-old Ethiopia Stewart can tell you how much she loves the Learning Center in Spanish or English. That’s because all education at the Learning Center is bilingual and multicultural; the Learning Center celebrates the richness of the Columbia Heights community.

Ethiopia’s mother, Moona Stewart, says that the Learning Center has “helped raise” all four of her children. Moona lost her job when Ethiopia, her last child, was born because she didn’t have childcare. Luckily for Moona, an Ethiopian immigrant, she found a new job and the Learning Center at the same time. All four children have enjoyed early childhood, after-school and summer programs, tutoring, arts enrichment and a host of other offerings through the Learning Center at different points in their young lives.

Founded in 1986, Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center began offering child development services to 15 neighborhood children. Today some 600 community members turn to the Learning Center for support that ranges from job referrals to programs for their children and help strengthening their skills as parents and earners.

In 1995, the local phone company donated a boarded-up, 73,000-square-foot switching station, which the Learning Center renovated to reflect its two-way relationship with the community. Walking by the beautiful, glass-walled building, neighborhoods can see young people plan a drama production and young artists as they paint. They can stop and watch the Learning Center at work for them.

The Learning Center serves as a doorway to America for immigrant families and a source of hope and possibility for other families in Washington, D.C.’s diverse Columbia Heights neighborhood. On average, children enroll in Learning Center programs for seven years, and 85% of Learning Center employees start out as parents of children in childcare. Long-term relationships mean that the Learning Center can help families work toward their goals and can support them through crises.

Parents can attend workshops in parenting, literacy, economic literacy, computers and languages. An essential employer for teens in the community, the Learning Center gives young people income, skills and an alternative to gangs. Art programs create a means of expression for community members of all ages.

Community members who want training in early childhood education can enter the Learning Center’s Child Development Associate Program, which offers bilingual training to speakers of English, Spanish, Cantonese, Creole, Vietnamese and Arabic. Deepening neighborhood resources for excellent childcare, more than 400 graduates now staff childcare services or operate licensed centers in their homes. With the income to stay in the community as housing prices rise, these professionals also form a bulwark against being displaced by gentrification.