Maricela Torres was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. at age 10; Maria Landron was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the U.S. at age 11. Based on their experiences, the PBA alumnae are committed to helping others navigate the unique challenges of living in a foreign land.
To that end, in March 2019, Torres opened the Esperanza Community Center in the north end of West Palm Beach to improve the quality of life of all residents in the Northwood area. The center’s mission is “empowering day laborers and families to thrive.”
Torres was searching for her calling in life when she enrolled at PBA. She earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational management in 2013 and master’s in counseling in 2014. Five years later, she opened the doors to the community center. She credits PBA for giving her the confidence she needed.
“PBA is an amazing school,” Torres said. “For anyone who is truly interested in finding what they’re capable of, the school can be that catalyst.”
Torres’ PBA education emphasized service to others, which awakened her desire to help the men she drove by every day on her way to work at Florida Crystals. The men stand on a vacant plot of land at the corner of 44th Street and Broadway in West Palm Beach, waiting for someone to pick them up for work. They often get cheated out of pay when they do find a job.
Now, two years later, the center provides classes to help those men and partners with other organizations to provide COVID vaccinations, diapers, rental assistance, culturally-appropriate foods, bike giveaways and Thanksgiving baskets. The center also offers adult literacy classes in Spanish and English.
Torres met Landron when Intercultural Studies Instructor Mark Kaprive invited Torres to speak to Landron’s class about immigration, college and finding a calling. Torres’ story resonated with Landron, and the women, a generation apart, stayed in touch afterward.
Later, Landron reached out to Torres and said PBA’s chapter of Circle K International wanted to organize a diaper drive to help the Esperanza Community Center’s families. Circle K is an international collegiate service organization that is a leadership program of Kiwanis International. The club collected 622 diapers, which were distributed to more than 85 low-income families across West Palm Beach through the center’s Cotton Bottom Baby Diaper Bank program, Landron said.
Circle K used an Amazon wish list to match the donated diapers to the community center’s needs, said Isabelle Reinhart, the club’s vice president. The collection occurred virtually and on PBA’s Rinker Green over one week in April. Reinhart, a junior accounting major from Louisville, Kentucky, and chair of events for PBA’s Student Government Association, viewed the drive as an opportunity to let people know “they are loved and cared about” at a time when “everything else in the world had been put on pause.”
“There’s always an opportunity to bless people’s lives no matter what’s going on in our country or in our personal lives,” Reinhart said. “From a Christian standpoint, we’re called to serve others through the talents that God has given us.”
What’s more, the diaper program created a conduit to working with the moms who benefited, Torres said. She did not want to create charity or a sense of entitlement, so she required recipients to attend one workshop or volunteer at the center. Instead of signing up for one workshop, the mothers signed up for all of them, Torres said.
“I had no idea the program was going to take off the way it did,” Torres said.
Landron, now a PBA alumna, has started teaching Saturday computer classes at the center. She earned her students’ respect, as indicated by the nickname they assigned her: “Maestra,” which means “teacher” in Spanish.