In Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, Adventists have created a space where everyone is welcome. Its formal name is Centro Comunitario, Educativo, y Familiar. But everyone calls it Centro CEF. It’s an urban outreach center started to help people prioritize community, education, and family. Students and faculty from nearby Antillean Adventist University offer programs at the center that promote healthful living.
Before COVID-19 struck, the staff surveyed people in the community to learn about their needs and determine how to best meet them. As they visited homes, they talked with each person to get to know them a little. Then they prayed with them and shared a flyer outlining the services offered at Centro CEF.
Based on the survey’s results, the Centro CEF staff set about meeting community needs by conducting health fairs, providing clothing, and tutoring children in English, Spanish, and mathematics.
“We also have a school for the parents where we learn about emotions,” educational coordinator Mairim Acasta said. “We [discuss] what good emotional intelligence is and how to develop and practice it with their child.”
At the end of the center’s first semester, families and volunteers enjoyed an end-of-year holiday program hosted by the staff. During a large celebration with food and music, the children showcased their artwork, and the staff handed out special gifts.
“During the pandemic, the services needed to be adapted a little,” Holly Aviles, Centro CEF’s coordinator, said. “But we continued by doing online workshops for parents and art workshops for the kids.”
The staff also created a WhatsApp group, where they send daily educational videos, and they experimented with hosting a podcast to discuss various topics and promote the center’s services. These activities allow them to stay connected with people even when they can’t be together physically.
Jalys participates in the children’s art workshop. “I like it because I learn many things,” she said. Jalys’s mother, Laura, commented, “We’re really happy with the service we receive. It’s been a big help to learn about art, and it’s been beneficial to my children, who have been quarantining and social distancing. We can’t go out much, but these workshops are helping a lot because the kids benefit, learn, and enjoy.”
Centro CEF also developed an online women’s group to help women interact and support each other. “It helped me a lot,” one attendee said. “Many times, we need support, and others won’t listen. And in my case, I have been living completely alone for three years. It’s not easy.”
Centro CEF has done amazing things to impact this community in Puerto Rico. “We will continue working for the community, for the family, and kids’ education,” Aviles said. “We have other activities planned and things to do to impact everyone here. We hope to serve as a blessing for each of them in these difficult times.”