When visitors walk through the front door of A Better Foundation, they are greeted with a smiling receptionist in a room filled with bright colors used to stimulate learning. For the owner/director of the child learning center in Homestead, it’s all for good reason. “We are all about creating a positive, welcoming place,” Rocio Leiva says.
For 12 years, Rocio has focused her center, just down the street from Homestead Air Reserve Base, on educating children in an environment that is physically, mentally, emotionally, and aesthetically nurturing.
Rocio, age 53, knows well that the first few years of a child’s life are the most important when it comes to setting the foundations for growth, development and later life. So she and her 20-member staff put their attention on the children’s needs while building skills they will use in the years to come.
It’s no longer acceptable to just teach children letters, numbers, and other basic foundations, Rocio says. Children also need to learn to be compassionate, and so the staff encourages even the youngest children to say “thank you,” “good morning,” “goodbye,” and “please” every chance they get during their time at A Better Foundation.
“In today’s world, it’s so important to be respectful, kind, and loving,” Rocio says.
These qualities can be missing in the home life of many of the center’s children since many of them live in a nearby homeless transition center or have parents working long shifts at the military base.
Knowing the needs of the children’s families, A Better Foundation offers them donated food, clothing, diapers, toys, and many other materials. It’s all available to them when they walk into the center.
Rocio’s approach to children’s learning and supporting their families is catching on across Homestead. The number of children signed up in her pre-school and after-school programs is fast growing. To keep up with the demand, the center has been expanded from 7,500-square-feet to 15,000-square-feet. The expansion includes room for a private school from kindergarten to first grade and eventually to second grade and beyond.
The Capital Access Fund (CAF) from the Urban League of Broward County helped pay for the expansion, which included renovating additional bays in the shopping center where the center is based. Rocio got connected to the Urban League through a colleague at a business and leadership institute she attended in Miami.
“I was trying to get financing for a long time and I exhausted all options. The Urban League opened up the door for me. I am so grateful,” she says. Running her own child learning center has been Rocio’s dream since she developed a passion for working with children at a young age.
Growing up in south Miami-Dade County, she worked at a Catholic Charities child care center after finishing school. She worked her way up as an educator before realizing that there weren’t many educators running child learning centers. Many owners, she says, are business people who don’t truly understand what children need.
Rocio set out to change. She took business classes and saved money until she was able to open A Better Foundation on her own. After spending much of her life preparing children for the world to come, Rocio can’t imagine doing anything else. Her payoff for all the hard work: seeing her former students get into college and aspire to do great things.
“I love running the center. It feels like home to me. It’s what I’ve wanted to do my entire life and I’m doing it to the best of my ability,” she says. “It’s all about making a difference for these kids.”
To learn more about A Better Foundation, call 305-257-5565.