Education is empowering—those seeking an education have their sights set on success. The Learning and Loving Education Center of Morgan Hill has been empowering women with an education since 1994 when Sister Pat Davis and the Sisters of the Presentation founded it.
The center was established to meet the needs of a neglected sector of the communities of Morgan Hill, Gilroy, San Martin and Coyote Valley—low-income immigrant women. These women needed an education and the center was created with them in mind.
“Immigrant women didn’t have a chance really, to learn English, so they decided to make a literacy center for women,” says Christa Hanson, the center’s executive director. “And it started with 20 women, and kind of a little day care for their children.”
Hanson was a board member of the center who threw her name in the hat six years ago when the former director, Sister Pat Davis, stepped down.
Hanson brought with her a 30-year association with the Diocese of San Jose, along with her experience in teaching and her 22 years as principal of St. Mary’s School in Gilroy.
“I knew all about this place,” she says. “I knew it back and forth and it was a good fit.”
It certainly appears that was the case in early December when Hanson received a visit from Mayor Steve Tate announcing the center was voted the 2018 nonprofit of the year by the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce.
“I was flabbergasted,” says Hanson. “I’m more excited about it because I think it gives dignity to the women. This is a good place and these people are worthwhile. They’re an important part of the community.”
The Learning and Loving Education Center, along with seven additional honorees will be presented awards on March 3, at the 2018 Celebrate Morgan Hill Awards Dinner, held at Britton Middle School.
According to Hanson the center has provided education, resources and community connections for thousands of immigrant women and their families for more than 20 years.
Since coming on board, Hanson has worked with organizations and nonprofits throughout the community to, “ascertain the needs of the people and try and meet those needs as best we can without duplicating efforts.”
Working hand in hand with Morgan Hill Adult Community School, Gavilan College, Community Solutions and Rebekah’s Children’s Services, Hanson believes they’ve made progress.
One specific need Hanson recognized and addressed was a lack of food for the women and their children at the center.
“How can you learn if you’re hungry?,” says Hanson. “We created a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank. Loaves and Fishes, which is under its umbrella, brings us a hot breakfast and a hot lunch every day we’re open—that’s free of charge. There’s always those kind of needs that we’re looking at.”
Hanson points out a common trait shared by every woman who utilizes the center no matter her age or documentation status—determination.
“They want to learn,” says Hanson. “We had 16 women last year that went on to Gavilan College. To see those women want to do that is really exciting.”
The center, located at 16890 Church Street, #16, in Morgan Hill, offers a laundry list of programs and classes including five levels of ESL classes, grammar and writing, nutrition and parenting classes.
Computer classes from the basic skills up to advanced applications including Microsoft Publisher and QuickBooks are offered.
Free preschool for children 22 months to 5 years is offered to center participants, and along with the educational classes, yoga, art, sewing and knitting classes are also available.
“We find many of the women are really artistic and really good with their hands,” says Hanson. “They’re good at a lot of things—they blow your mind.”
Another important resource available at the center is GED classes.
“We had 14 last year earn [high school equivalency certificates] so it’s really exciting,” says Hanson.
Most of the teachers are volunteers and former educators from the public or private sector says Hanson. “We get the best of all teachers.” says Hanson, adding that as of now they have approximately 40 volunteers.
Class sizes average between 12 to 17 students and as of the end of last year the center’s enrollment was at 172.
Hanson admits funding is the biggest challenge, as is the case with most nonprofits.
“We charge the women $70 a year total for the program,” she says. “Preschool is free. If they can only pay half of that, or part of that, it’s fine. Or if they can’t pay at all, no one is turned away.”
The center holds an annual fundraiser at St. Catherine’s Hall, which includes dinner and a silent auction. They plan to hold this year’s event in April.
A very unique aspect of the center is that a number of the staff, past and present, began as students.
“They know the program and they’re very dedicated,” says Hanson. “It’s very exciting to see that happen.”
Gilroy resident and the center’s computer instructor, Barbara Estrada, first came to the center in 1999, for help with English—she never left. Estrada believes her experience as a student and a teacher taught her the importance of education.
“I feel so proud of all I’ve accomplished here,” says Estrada.
Lynn Hasbany, a longtime associate of the center began working as a volunteer ESL teacher in 1994. Over the years she’s transitioned into her current position, curriculum coordinator.
“For me it was just fun to be a part of it and to be connected with the women,” Hasbany says. “This has become a home away from home for a lot of the students. I love it here, I love the community, I love the staff, I love the students.”
Hanson shares Hasbany’s love of the students and is proud of their accomplishments.
She not only loves the students—she loves the accomplishments they’ve made.
“To see the people at the GED graduation get their equivalency certificates, they’re the most meaningful graduations I’ve ever been to, and as principal I’ve been to a lot of graduations. But those are the most meaningful to me. It’s a safe place, it is a loving place, and it is a place where people care about each other.”
Last names of the students have been omitted at the center’s request. For more information regarding the Learning and Loving Education Center, go to: learningandloving.org, or call, 408.776.1196.