The Columbia Heights neighborhood of northwest Washington, D.C., is home to one of the most diverse populations in the city. Despite a recent influx of young professionals, the area has retained strong African American and Latino roots. Many longtime residents are adult immigrants with limited education and English skills.
Carlos Rosario observed the same issues when he moved to Washington, D.C., from Puerto Rico in the 1950s. He made it his life’s work to improve the services available to the Latino community, starting with Columbia Heights. Rosario founded the Program of English Instruction for Latin Americans (PEILA) in 1970 and recruited another Puerto Rican native, Sonia Gutierrez, as a counselor.
“What happened to me was a total transformation,” Gutierrez recalled. “I felt totally in love with the immigrants in the program.”
Within a few months, Gutierrez became the director of PEILA. She grew the small, underfunded English as a Second Language program into a comprehensive adult education program with a waiting list of 2,000 people. She made it the school’s mission to prepare the immigrant population to become invested, productive citizens who give back to their families and communities.
Nearly forty years later, in 2004, Gutierrez relocated the program in order to accommodate growing demand and renamed it for her mentor. She did so with assistance from Bank of America. The bank acquired and renovated the program’s current building, and provided financing for the rehabilitation of a historic school that would serve as its new location.
Today, the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School serves 2,500 people annually. It has educated more than 60,000 adults in its 42-year history. They go on to obtain college degrees, pass citizenship exams, pay taxes and purchase homes.
The School has been recognized nationally and internationally as a successful model for transforming the lives of immigrant individuals, families and communities. Next year, it will open a satellite campus in northeast Washington, D.C. with financing from Bank of America.
The bank’s connection to the School extends well beyond financing. The client manager assigned to the School, Brahim Rawi, is a graduate of Carlos Rosario and treasurer of its Board of Trustees.
“Bank of America gave me the skills, the resources, the opportunity to help the School achieve its vision,” Rawi explained.
The bank also remains invested in the Columbia Heights community. The large branch in the neighborhood’s retail center is an outward symbol of its commitment to providing residents with opportunities to improve their lives.
“Bank of America is really a community bank. It’s a place where you feel like they really care about you,” said Gutierrez. “They don’t just care about the big businesses; they care about the little people like us.”
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