Center of Help/Centro de Ayuda

In the spring of 2020, one event sent Marcos’ life into a tailspin: He tested positive for COVID-19. A gentle, friendly single father known for his beautiful manners, he’d immigrated to the U.S. in 2018 from El Salvador with his son, Jorge, who was 11 at the time, to avoid violent gang youth recruitment. Unlike many other immigrants, Marcos didn’t have an existing network of family and friends in his new community in Maryland, but he was connected early on to the Center of Help/Centro de Ayuda, which assisted him in enrolling his son in school. He also found a full-time job working in a kitchen in a local restaurant and was happily supporting his small family—until the pandemic hit.


The positive COVID test result forced Marcos into a mandatory quarantine at home. Without the ability to work, he had no way to feed his son. So he turned again to the Center of Help for support. Volunteers from the Center coordinated delivery of a donated bed and began bringing food to Marcos and Jorge’s home. They also enrolled Jorge in the Leadership & Learning Program to provide English tutoring and help him navigate online classes. Meanwhile, Marcos’ condition deteriorated, eventually requiring hospitalization for several weeks. A friend stepped up to take care of his son, while the Center connected Marcos to government and private programs to help pay his mounting medical bills.


After Marcos’ release from the hospital, the Center helped him apply for a new job. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that he was a “long-hauler”: Lingering breathing issues prevented him from doing the job. Without the resources to pay rent, he soon received an eviction notice. He came to the Center in a panic, desperate for help. The staff enrolled him in the Eviction Prevention Program, which covered several months’ rent. Meanwhile, Jorge regularly visited the Center to pick up food boxes for himself and his father.


When Marcos recovered enough mobility, the Center helped him find a part-time job. He is now regaining his independence and joyful outlook, while Jorge continues to thrive in school.


Giving dedicated parents like Marcos a helping hand is a highlight of the Center of Help’s work, says Executive Director Kirsten Clark. “Despite the difficulties they have faced, he does his best to be a good father,” she says. “He puts his son first at all times and makes every effort to keep him safe.”

The Center of Help served more than 2,000 individuals like Marcos in 2020, providing a one-stop resource center to help them overcome challenges, navigate systems and achieve self-sufficiency to break cycles of poverty. In the first year of the pandemic, the Center provided more than 23,000 food boxes to families affected by the crisis, assisted more than 100 parents supporting their children’s virtual learning, and provided nearly 40 individuals with no-cost mental health services, among countless other good works.


Geoff chose to support the Center of Help because of the clear impact it makes on the lives of people who aren’t being served by the existing social safety net. We are proud to continue his support of such a wonderful community resource.


Note: The clients’ names in the above case description were changed to maintain privacy.