Insights with Brand Ambassador and CM Jaqueline Arenas-Garcia
By Valerie Kelly
Today we had the pleasure of speaking with Jaqueline Arenas-Garcia, our dedicated Center Manager in the Southern region. Jackie is one of the Catalyst Kids’ Brand Ambassador Champions recognized at our Brand Anniversary Launch last month. Our ambassadors are honored for their commitment to the new Catalyst Brand. Jackie has been with us throughout the highs and lows and many name changes, always leading by example of our core values.
How long have you been with Catalyst? Have you had any other roles/titles with us?
I started off in 1999 as a Teacher’s Assistant at Tustin Ranch and I was there for seven and a half years. I had gotten my permit to become a teacher. During that time, I was enlisted to help the center grow and we opened an additional room. The Site Supervisor at the time put me in charge of the budget and I had the children assist me with the planning. As a TA, I was so fortunate to be able to move with my group of Kindergarteners up until their fifth-grade year. I am still in contact with many of them and it has been so rewarding to see them grow up, graduate college, get married, and have children of their own.
After becoming a teacher, I dipped my hands in everything that I was able to. I love arranging center areas, so I would be sent out to various sites to work on enriching their environments. I later had an opportunity to train a newly hired Site Supervisor at Red Hill with hopes of becoming an assistant site supervisor. From there, I was promoted to Site Supervisor for Tustin memorial in 2009. I was there for about five months before I got a call that the person who had hired me at Tustin Ranch was departing from the company and wanted me to take on Tustin Ranch. Because she had been there so long and I already knew the families, the goal was to make it a smooth transition, so I transferred back to Tustin Ranch as a Site Supervisor for three and a half years. I supervised both Red Hill and Tustin ranch for a little while. I decided to put in a transfer for Red Hill and became their Site Supervisor. I grew the program, and we had a waitlist for a couple of years. It had been my dream to open my own site. When I heard about Beswick, I was hesitant to transfer initially because of the great community I had at Red Hill, but I had wanted to open my own site for many years, so I went for it. We have celebrated 2 years of being open! Since the company reorganization, I was offered a position as a Center Manager, so now I oversee Beswick, Red hill, Heideman, and Nelson.
Tell me about your career and educational background. What roles were you in prior to coming to Catalyst?
I came to the organization straight out of high school and at one point, I was working two jobs. I was a teacher here and a Preschool Teacher for the Garden Grove school district. When I was doing the two, I really resonated with our philosophy and saw the difference. One day I saw the parents in my other role cutting out everything for the children to make an owl and all they got to do was press glue on paper, and that was really the turning point for me. I decided to move on from the district to work for Catalyst, formerly CDC, full time.
I have my Site Supervisor permit and I returned this fall to complete my bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education at CSU Fullerton and expect to finish within a couple of years.
Can you share an experience when you have seen a teacher or child’s life change at Catalyst?
There have been many but one of the proudest is the outcome with a child from Red Hill. This child had a hard time expressing feelings. She would run, hit, climb, and not respond well to structure. I had to find a way to support the child, parent, and staff. It was a hard task, and it took a couple of years, but in the end, the child was able to express her feelings without hurting herself or others. The child eventually left the program, but I am still in contact with her and her mom today. Being able to help the child is the reason why I love my career.
What do you enjoy most about being a Program Director or working here at Catalyst?
Everything. The fact that the company trusts us to create a sense of community within the centers and the trust to set up the environment. To make authentic connections with the school and being hands-on with everything.
Being the connection between school, family, and friendships. Being able to give the children a place to be themselves and not have to follow cookie-cutter expectations.
I love mentoring, being able to teach what I know, and sharing my experiences.
What does a typical day look like in the role as a Program Director?
My day usually starts around 5 am, just in case we need to figure out coverage if anyone calls out. I check in with my assistants and make sure they are set for the day. Beswick is my home site and I check in with staff upon arrival. I check email & respond to any messages, and before starting to settle in for tasks do a walkthrough of the center. When possible, I spend time with the children. You lose those connections if you spend all the time behind a desk and they just see you as the “boss”. During camps, I am not shy to join in the activities and spirit challenges which are my favorite. Sometimes I’ll have lunch with the children to help deepen connections. It’s about managing your deskwork but also being with the children and the staff. I make it a point to say goodbye at the end of each day. This is important to me, I see it as a way to acknowledge those within the center community.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of? Why?
Yes! The system I have set up for community donations. We have survived nearly two years with minimal purchases. Now we have people who will just show up and drop things off. A lot of times it may not be a donation for the center itself, but for the community that we serve. When covid first started I gathered donations for food for a family at Guin Foss. It broke my heart that when we were doing wellness checks, a child’s mom told me she didn’t have a lot of food left. I could not sleep that night and decided to use the power of social media. I almost immediately had things purchased and dropped off. I then helped my Beswick families that needed food followed by Heideman and Tustin ranch, anyone that was in need. We brought all the stuff and sorted it for delivery. It really shows you the power of community and what you can do if you just ask.
When I started at Beswick I realized there was so much need, during the holidays I again used social media to ask for child sponsors. The plan was to have one wish fulfilled for each child at the center and all of them received multiple gifts. Each child was sponsored by a friend or family member of mine. It was so overwhelming!
Tell me something that you think makes our organization unique.
There is a lot, but I think the biggest is the freedom to make the centers your own. We all have the same components, but it is like a home. We may have the same things in our homes, but each of our homes has a unique feel and culture. You can work off what families want and need and make it your own. I’ve been at many sites, and each has its own uniqueness tailored around the staff, families, and children. I want to make sure everyone has a voice and is represented.
With so many great organizations to support, why should others choose to support Catalyst?
Because we are one of a kind and we’re a very hidden secret.
We’re a place where children can express themselves, have a safe space, create, build relationships, learn life skills, and eat healthy meals. Children are supported with academics and social skills.
We expand on interests and ideas. Those who support us, either financially or with supplies, are helping spark interest in a child. We intentionally put things out in our environments to excite them and they discover something new. Recently, someone donated a sewing machine which initially faced a lot of skepticism, but I put a lot of emphasis on being able to use it as a great learning opportunity for the children and we even got a wedding dress designed and sewn by a child. There is also a wooden house that is a work in progress. It was initially going to go to the dump, but it’s been sanded, and the children will be able to paint it and make it their own. By supporting us with physical donations or financial donations, each gives us the ability to give different areas in the center opportunities for children to learn a skill.
What do you wish people knew about the world of childcare / camps / etc. (their program)?
That the people that are in these positions are doing it from the heart. It isn’t a career that brings riches in the sense of financials, but it brings life fulfillment because every day is different and an opportunity to help a child learn and discover. Not one child is alike. Every little human has something to teach us as well as us being able to support their learning. Each day we are gifted an opportunity to give a child an “aha” moment, whether it is learning how to express themselves or managing a new behavior, or teaching them a new life skill.
Each day is a new opportunity to make an impact on the lives of these little humans. They too teach us something if we just open our eyes to it and listen to them.