Harvested from the field and professionally grown at Centro.

Today Laura Torres is a devoted parent and grandparent with a successful career at Centro de la Familia, however, it wasn’t always this way. Her journey to success has taken a lifetime of hard work.

Laura family 1As a child, Laura remembers being with her parents while they worked in the fields. That is until she was recruited shortly before she turned five by HRDI Head Start, now Centro. While her time in the program was short she remembers learning her colors and riding the bus to the center, as well as the relief it brought to her parents knowing that she would be cared for, taught, and fed while they worked under the hot sun.

Later Laura would find herself working in the orchards as a young mother in Elberta Utah. Without affordable childcare options, she was forced to take her newborn daughter to the fields with her to help make ends meet. It was here in the orchard that Centro again came offering assistance and set Laura and her family on a journey of change.

With over 42 years of devoted service as a Family Service Specialist with Centro, Blanca Tijerina has changed the lives of hundreds of families, and Laura’s family was no exception. Blanca found Laura working in the field with her child and quickly helped Laura through the recruitment process, securing a stable head start environment where her child would not only be cared for but learn and thrive.

Laura in fieldOnce in the program, Centro continued to build a relationship of trust with the family. They were integrated into regular educational trainings, parent nights, and home visits that increased their ability to fully engage in their daughter’s development and education. Laura reflects that Blanca and the staff were always there for her, calling and stopping by to check in on her, offering clothes and other community resources to the family. She even remembers Blanca helping her family find new housing as they migrated for work. Speaking of Blanca’s service Laura said, “She was a real advocate for me. She was always there for me and I felt like I was her only family even though I’m sure she was doing the same with all of her families.”

Eventually, Laura and her family moved to Northern Utah for work and enrolled in another local Head Start Program. Laura began volunteering in the classroom with her now three children and was referred back to Centro when inquiring about job opportunities. Laura was hired as a center aide and quickly found her passion for child education, observing and replicating everything she saw in the classroom with her children at home.

sister in onion fieldThat year Centro offered to help Laura advance to a teaching position by paying and guiding her through the process of obtaining her Child Development Associates (CDA). This was an eye-opening experience. “I learned a lot not only as an educator but I also learned how to educate my children with the knowledge I was gaining from Centro.” Laura continued, “It helped me realize how important the small skills are for children that I would not have considered before, like fine motor development. I learned that children learn through exploring and this changed my parenting style.”

Laura in field 2Head Start services, as well as Laura’s continued efforts to engage in her children’s education at home, left them well prepared for kindergarten. With well-established relationships in place with the local school district, including an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for her youngest child, her children had a smooth transition into kindergarten. They entered knowing their colors, numbers and shapes, and teachers quickly recognized the potential of her children. In fact, at a time when bilingual resources were limited teachers sought Laura’s permission for them to help translate for other students who did not have any English skills, feeling that her children were advanced enough to take out of class in these times of need. Their ability, even as children, to continue the ripple effect of Centro’s impact in the community is an inspiration and motivation for staff.

After several years with Centro Laura decided to continue her education. Apprehensive about speaking with her supervisors about her desire to return to school she was taken by surprise when Centro offered her several other part-time options that would allow her to continue to work at the center while pursuing her education. Laura spent two years working for Centro and studying Office Administration before moving on to work for Utah State University and as an Executive Assistant for the Brigham City Chamber of Commerce.

In 2014 she returned to work at Centro as an office manager, was promoted to HR Specialist at the beginning of 2017, and now has a total of over 17 years working for Centro. When asked why she has continued to be drawn back to Centro Laura replied, “I stay for the families and the children we serve because I was there. I was on their side. I’ve been there. So that’s my reward and not only because I’m Latina but to be able to help mi gente, mi raza, that for me is rewarding.”

This is a feeling shared by all of Centro’s dedicated staff who are distinguished from many of the services available in the community because for them this is more than a job, it’s a calling. It is a deep-rooted passion to love and serve the children and families who are most in need and to help the seeds of their potential, already inside them, to bloom and grow. Centro echo’s Laura’s words, “I feel very grateful and humbled because they all have a story, they all have struggles, but yet they all have something that they can overcome. And I know they can because I did.”