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Combatting Poverty Through Education

She asked a simple question.

“Will you teach me English?”

When a young Spanish-speaking woman asked this of Sister Trinitas, of the Daughters of Charity who had recently moved to East Palo Alto on a mission to combat poverty, she answered with a resolute “Yes.”

That was more than 20 years ago… and hundreds of people have benefitted from that answer.

A Bright Vision

When she moved to the Bay Area in 1996, Sister T (as Sister Trinitas likes to be called) had a vision to provide what she saw as the missing piece for many underserved families in the East Palo Alto community.

Spanish speaking residents needed a safe, welcoming, educational program that supported English language acquisition, while providing child supervision, so the adult students could be confident in talking to their children’s teachers, interviewing for jobs, discussing medical care for loved ones, and much more.

As the first few students continued their lessons with Sister T, they became more proficient at understanding, speaking, reading, and writing English. The genesis of the Rosalie Rendu Center was under way. With more than 20 years of unconditional service, the Rosalie Rendu Center has helped hundreds of people in East Palo Alto to better support their families and create a thriving community.

The Early Years

Sister Trinitas and the Daughters of Charity quickly saw how providing English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in East Palo Alto – a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood with historically high crime rates and low performing schools – could help provide a safe, caring environment for adult students to reduce social isolation and poverty and create thriving, healthy families.

Knowing that a dedicated space was necessary to conduct classes, Sister T used grant money to rent space in the Carriage Manor Apartments. In January 1998, the center offered the first official ESL classes for local community members. Today, as many as a hundred adults and children benefit every year from the services offered year-round at the Rosalie Rendu Center.

A fortuitous partnership with the Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula (JLPA•MP) in the first few years of the Rosalie Rendu Center provided much-needed resources for the rapidly expanding programs. The League provided funding, volunteers, and expertise to help Sister T provide a range of ESL classes for the community.

Members of the JLPA•MP are credited for being the driving force behind the powerful fundraising campaign in 2000 that allowed the Daughters of Charity to purchase Carriage Manor Apartments, preventing the facilities from being developed into upscale condominiums and saving 46 families from being displaced. The sale secured a permanent location for the Rosalie Rendu Center to continue its programs and preserved low-income housing opportunities for community residents.

Even though the JLPA•MP’s formal partnership with the Rosalie Rendu Center ended in 2007, many League members have stayed involved by serving on the Advisory Board, making annual donations, and volunteering for various programs throughout the year.

Many other philanthropic organizations have stepped up to provide services, personnel and grants to support the Center. These include groups like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, student volunteers from Stanford and the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, to name a few.

A Trying Transition

The Center now has two certified ESL teachers and has expanded its offerings to include field trips for families, computer and job skill training, art and cultural education workshops (which benefit students, staff and the community alike) and opportunities to collaborate with other East Palo Alto service organizations.

In late 2019 and early 2020, a low-income housing crisis prompted the Daughters of Charity to look for another home-base for the Rosalie Rendu Center. Sister T explained in the Center’s Spring 2020 newsletter that “rents were being raised and people were being given eviction notices.”

That’s when the Daughters decided to return the three apartments they were using for the Center back to the community so three more families would have access to safe housing.

But where to go next? It took some looking, but Sister T says, “God in His goodness … led us to a three-bedroom house with a beautiful garden only a few blocks” from the Center’s original location at Carriage Manor – just about a half-mile east.

But soon after the move to the new building, the COVID-19 pandemic closed many businesses’ doors and forced families to shelter-in-place. That meant families in the community faced new concerns. Many were furloughed from jobs, making paying rent and buying food difficult. Schools switched to remote learning, putting pressure on already stretched budgets to scramble for computers and internet access. Most families turned to their smartphones, but it was difficult to accommodate everyone’s needs, especially if more than one child had to be “in class” at the same time.

The experience for students at the Rosalie Rendu Center was no different. The Center’s staff didn’t take long to transition to remote classes. Class times were adjusted to meet the adult students’ hectic schedules. But everyone pulled together.

And in late 2020, another local organization stepped up to support the families in the community. The StreetCode Academy partnered with the Rosalie Rendu Center to provide computers to local families.

According to Kyle Carter, StreetCode’s community engagement outreach manager, “There are 7,500 households in East Palo Alto. Most are two-family households with an average of six people. Many families have been sharing one computer for everything – work, homework and learning.” That’s why StreetCode’s goal is to make laptops available to 100 percent of the families in the community.

Reaping a Harvest

Sister T says the Rosalie Rendu Center has been planting seeds within East Palo Alto for more than 20 years. And the community is reaping a bountiful harvest from that sowing.

“The impact on the lives of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community we serve – and on our volunteers and donors – has far exceeded our hopes and expectations,” Sister T said.

You can be a part of the great work being done at the Rosalie Rendu Center by the Daughters of Charity donating your time, talents and treasures. Just contact us to volunteer.

Opportunities for All

Since the day Sister Trinitas began teaching English to her first student, the Rosalie Rendu Center has welcomed all members of the community to participate in its programs and activities.

The Rosalie Rendu Center continues to innovate and expand its offerings to fulfill (or attain) the goals of educating, mentoring and raising the self-esteem of the entire family throughout the East Palo Alto community.

Where seeds are planted
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