At Mary’s Center, every check-up can be a teaching moment.
The Flower Avenue location for Mary's Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.
By Montana Robertson
(May 07, 2018 – WASHINGTON, D.C.) Thirty years ago, Maria Gomez founded a nonprofit focusing on prenatal and postpartum care with 200 patients and about 10 employees in a basement in Washington, D.C. Today, Mary’s Center is an all-encompassing health center, where outreach spans health care services, social services, education and advocacy.
How did this basement-based health center, starting with only $250 thousand a year in funding, grow into an eight location, 50,000 participant-based nonprofit?
According to Gomez, organically and wholeheartedly.
“Maria saw a need and she followed it,” said Lyda Vanegas, director of communications and public relations.
Gomez, a nurse at the time, first opened Mary’s Center with a group of health advocates for Latin American women who had fled poverty and war in Central America. She focused on their individual needs and each drove customized care results.
Vanegas explained that when situations arose, the organization rose to the call.
“At that time, [our clients] were all Latinas coming from Central America. They didn’t speak English, they had suffered a lot of trauma because of the war—so what were we going to do about this? We needed home visiting and literacy programs.”
“When women started to have babies, they needed pediatric care. So we needed pediatricians,” said Vanegas.
“Then, as their children began to grow—we needed teen programs, we needed behavioral health programs because of trauma or other factors like postpartum depression,” she said. “They needed social services, they needed to find public benefits, they needed to be educated on their insurance policies and [or] medical treatments.”
And so ensued an umbrella of services—ready for all sorts of weather.
At any of its eight locations, you can find programs such as home visiting, teen programs, workforce development programs, dental care, senior care, a father-child program, domestic violence support, medical care and educational programs, just to name a few.
Mary’s Center hits the 10 years in business in Maryland mark this summer. It is expanding beyond Montgomery County to Four Corners, Maryland this June—tripling its capacity.
Vanegas explained that perception can be a challenge for their organization. “People still think that we’re only prenatal and pediatric care, that we are only Latino, and that we’re free.”
This is not the case. Mary’s Center does provide those services, but now offers a host of nearly 30 other programs.
“We serve people from almost 50 different countries, including here—and we’re not free.”
However, Vanegas explained they do provide cost-free care to those in particular situations that are in dire need of services. “We provide so much free care that 22 percent of our revenue goes to free care.”
Hence, the center’s program— Get Care to Give Care. As a federally qualified health center, Mary’s Center repurposes insurance reimbursements and puts that towards those who cannot qualify.
“It’s important for businesses to understand the value in being a part of keeping your community healthy.”