A safe place to go: Opportunity Center opens in Sterling

Loudoun Times-Mirror
Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 by Hannah Dellinger

Students with financial and educational needs in Sterling now have a safe place to go after school to work on homework, get tutoring and learn from mentors.

Last week INMED Family and Youth Opportunity Center in Sterling opened its doors for its first after-school program. The international organization has provided programs to battle poverty for nearly 30 years. Now it is focusing in on the needs of the eastern end of Loudoun County.

“Our organization sees poverty all over the world. You forget that it’s here as well, in the wealthiest county in the nation,” said Linda Pfeiffer, INMED president and CEO. “Some of the poverty and education statistics in this part of the county are worse than they are in the Appalachia region.”

Pfeiffer said that the facade of the new flashy, large homes in Sterling can be deceiving.

“There are some really nice homes here, but you can have 10 families living together in that home,” she said.

The most pressing need on the eastern end of the county is for child and family services, said the nonprofit director.

“Most services like this are housed in Leesburg. This area was very much under-served,” said María Vásquez-Alvarez, executive director of the center. “There really wasn’t much here for this end of the county for low-income or immigrant families.”

The center works with area schools and social services to identify families in need. The volunteer-based organization offers programs like job skills training, parenting classes, cooking classes, summer school, after-school care and computer classes.

“What we are doing is going to help these kids and their families in the long run. That is really going to help the Loudoun economy,” said Alvarez. “We are trying to help these kids and families be more self-sufficient and more aware of how things work in academics and in the job market.”

The after school program gives the students a structured environment to get their homework done, get one-on-one tutoring in areas in which they are struggling and build healthy relationships with mentors.

“What we do for the kids is really helping the family, because the parents can work more hours and bring more money to their finances,” said Alvarez.

The center also helps parents become more invested and active in their child’s education.

“The parents might not have a chance to help them,” said Alvarez. “Whether it’s a language barrier, they work a part-time job in the evening or they may not have the connection between home and the school. We work hard to fix that.”

The after school program has room for 45 students, but it is at less than half capacity right now.

“Transportation is our biggest issue,” said Alvarez. “It’s limiting who we serve.”

The schools don’t have the resources to bus the students to the center, she said. Most of the parents are working at that time.

Pfeiffer said that she hopes to obtain a bus or a donation in order to fill the need.

Above all else, the center is a place that the children can feel safe and nurtured, said Alvarez.

“We want this to be a happy place for families,” she said. “Otherwise, when they are not here, they are living under really hard conditions.”

For more information, visit inmed.org.