El-Centro's Journey to Empowering Dreams in IT

Founded in 1956, Catholic Charities El-Centro is the oldest ESOL program in the state and provides various levels of instruction to a growing number of students. Unlike other similar organizations, El-Centro puts a unique focus on training its students for college and workforce readiness. Marianna Geraskina, El-Centro’s director of education, speaks to their mission: “We are trying to do what few programs do because we are trying to prepare them for the level that they can go to college and really create for them a pathway into the middle class.” Marianna adds, “It’s not good for the community when very talented people are not used according to their potential, and the mission of El-Centro is to help each, and every student reach their potential.”

El-Centro has received a WCTF grant of $340,706 to fund their IT program, an avenue Marianna was confident would be helpful for her students’ career development. “We wanted to get our students into vocational training, and when the pandemic started, our students were even more disadvantaged,” says Marianna. “People worked from home, but our students could not. Most worked in the service sector; I didn’t know where the world was going. I was thinking: What is a cross-sectional field where people can work in different places but have skills that transcend one narrow field? And I thought that IT was exactly that. They can work in a school, bank, factory, small business, big business, everywhere.”

Currently, El-Centro’s IT Program is serving its third cohort of students and has shifted from remote to hybrid sessions. Marianna has learned much about the field since her first cohort and has since been able to provide her students with multiple certificates and internship options. Additionally, she connected with several great community employers, such as DoIT and Onward!, and ultimately helped her students find successful jobs in their field or get promoted in their current line of work.

One of El-Centro’s most successful stories is Ahmed’s, who now works as a software analyst at Georgia Tech, where he used to be a student in biomedical engineering. “My goal was to have my own medical device company and software company, but you need a background in software development,” he said. “I met with Marianna and told her about my dreams. She told me about this program that could really help me get on the right track. Now, I’m Security Plus certified and working as a software analyst. If it wasn’t for El-Centro, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Ahmed was also grateful to connect with partners and lecturers. “Ambassadors from the cybersecurity industry would visit. They [would] tell students about things they can do to get into cybersecurity. Through it, I met so many different people in IT, and I got to connect with them on LinkedIn. Information from these experts was very valuable to my path.”

Another student, Andrii, remarks on the support he received from other students, trainers, and El-Centro’s Director. “Marianna was always with us, asking how we were and how our education was,” says Andrii. “When we finished our cybersecurity [training], I didn’t feel comfortable getting a certification, but we got together, and Ahmed helped us study. I started my fellowship in Boston in October.” Andrii remarks that he is still in contact with his peers and teachers from the program today. “Marianna calls me every week, asking if I need help or information,” he said. “I feel huge support from her.”

At Catholic Charities El-Centro, not only do students learn practical and technical skills to increase career opportunities, but their confidence improves as well. “Confidence, I would say, is one of the major obstacles, and cultural fluency,” says Marianna. “The Internship is very helpful in that regard. These opportunities are a huge personal success for students, both in terms of income and social fluency, so it’s very important to them.”

This story is featured in the 2023 Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (WCTF) Annual Report. Click here to download the full report.