Author Archive

Progress After Matthew: Yielding Change Picks up Steam

IMG-20161215-WA0016In October we watched as Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti, a country still mired in a years-long governance crisis that grew out of an earthquake in 2010. We were not optimistic about the outcome for Haiti’s most vulnerable populations, the poor and the rural poor. The storm destroyed much of southern Haiti and the northwestern peninsula, but spared the heart of the country, including the densely populated capital at Port au Prince.

In the immediate aftermath we turned to the Quixote Center network for funds, able to promise only that we would direct all resources to the emergency effort we were sure would follow the storm. The network responded, providing nearly $30,000 in emergency aid funds. We were humbled and encouraged by this outpouring.

When the sun broke through the clouds and Haiti came back online, we scheduled emergency meetings with our partners. We found that the region of Gros-Morne, home to our partner groups, was relatively unaffected. The prevailing notion there was to marshal resources and to help those most harmed by the storm.

One of the long-standing structural barriers to smallholder farmer development has been the lack of access to markets. Isolated farming families often have the land and the know-how (thanks to decades of education and outreach by the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center and the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne) to produce more food than they require. This surplus should provide the income that the families need in order to improve their lot in life and ensure greater opportunities for their children by investing in education and medical care. The problem is that many of these farmers have no access to buyers. Instead they are surrounded almost entirely by people in similar situations: cash-poor smallholder farmers.

In this way the hurricane presented an opportunity to provide incomes to the smallholders and direct aid to those affected by the storm. We at the Quixote Center would serve as the buyer, our partners would coordinate the purchase and shipment of seeds, trees, and supplies, and the hearty smallholder farmers would provide the raw materials from their fields. This system of aid also resolved another long-standing issue: an influx of foreign food and supplies can provide essential first-response aid, but over time can displace local production and causing a greater need for aid. This un-virtuous cycle is on full display in today’s Haiti.

We set about our work with a call to the local farmers: Bring your excess to the market and we will buy it. This request was music to the ears of people scraping by, and the system began to bear fruit immediately. By December we had purchased and shipped more than a ton of seeds and some two thousand young trees to the far northwestern reaches of the country. These areas, devastated by the hurricane and forgotten by most aid groups, were struggling.During the first phase of the program we decided to purchase goats to send as aid. This folded well with our existing goat training and distribution project, administered by the local Caritas development network. Soon after a relief truck which had  3,700 young trees, 900 plantain trees, and sacks of seeds (corn and beans) which weighed a total of 2,700 lbs was sent to the city of Jean Rabel. “After the beans and corn were loaded, dried guinea grass and fresh cut tree and shrub branches were added. Then 21 female goats, purchased in Gros Morne, were loaded.  The relief truck was blessed and sent off to Jean Rabel in the Northwest where people were waiting at the parish for the trees, seeds and goats” (Brother Charles Wilson, Haiti program coordinator).

The progress we have made is significant, but the people continue to struggle. There is more to do, and we look forward to the positive impact of the Yielding Change program as it continues to feed families, support community growth, and stop the vicious cycle of international aid dependency.

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A Roof for Every Family!

Located at the entrance of Santa Terespage1image1192a (Carazo) municipality, only 53 kilometers from Managua, the walls are goingup in the first house that the Roncalli-John XXIII Association is building in an alliance with BANPRO.  This is the foundation of a program that intends to respond to 46.7% of the population with income that is less than that traditionally required by financial institutions that grant credit.

Benito Antonio Ceneno, 70, has worked all his life in the fields, starting his day early with his morning coffee, Now he shares his mornings and his coffee with 5 collaborators (the master builder, two masons and two helpers) who are building his daughter’s house, Iris Centeno, the first beneficiary of this phase of the Housing First Program.

In the Housing and the Family modality, the Roncalli Association supplies 20% of the value of the home as guaranteed funds, facilitates construction of new housing, legalization and technical assessment services. It is part of the Roncalli-Juan XXIII Association’s mission, that has benefited more than 20,000 persons by building more than 3,700 homes in the last fifteen years.

From the bosom of reality… a response is born

According to data from EMNV (survey of the measurement of standards of living), 22% of the urban population lives in overcrowded conditions and each year 20,000 new families increase this deficit (Nestor Avendano 2011).  Facing this reality, the Roncalli Association came up with a solution.page2image13936

“As a product of the Society of Jesus with its mission to fight for social justice, we asked ourselves where were the marginalized? What were the most significant human needs?  Then we identified the problem of access to housing and we became involved in solving this problem with the intention of supporting it in a consistent manner.  That’s how we began to search for allies who would allow us to make a sustained contribution to this problem.  Then with BANPRO we were able to arrange an opportunity to finance the construction of housing for families who do not have access to bank credit at market rates. These strategies have a purpose. It allows us to facilitate access to the most basic of rights: A roof for every family!” emphasizes Edwin Novoa, Director of the Roncalli-John XXIII Association.

Solidarity is a word that is alive in Housing First and also breathes in the construction of Iris Centeno’s house. While she was working, her father took care of the trees that she planted more than five years ago, when another of his daughters gave this land to Iris. “My daughter Maria Teresa gave it to her and now she has this opportunity which makes me very happy for her. When she told me about this project, it made me very glad and I told her to take the opportunity because she wouldn’t be thinking about reinforcing rods or setbacks of any kind, because the help that they give is complete,” states a very moved Don Benito.

page3image16184One of this program’s innovations is that the houses are constructed on the family’s own land. It is in answer to the question: What do people already have that signifies a contribution to the solution? Moreover, the team of Roncalli-John XIII is ready to give its time and accompaniment to this process, which also contributes to human development, as they consider having a home is a vehicle for helping  people, families thrive.

“We work with people who have made an investment, they have already acquired land. Because we share the notion that everyone can contribute something: labor and solidarity as well as land, everything is much easier,” affirmed Edwin Novoa.

Iris’ plot is forty-eight square varas deep and nine wide (1 sq. vara=0.7 sq. meters). There we find fruit trees: guyaba, nancite, bitter oranges, lemons, plantains, bananas, quequisque, ginger, chayotes, tangerines and passion fruit. Don Benito helps the team of collaborators because he says he doesn’t like being idle. “What I’m doing now is painting, we’ve made friends and they let me do it.  I like the fact that they are going so quickly, they are dedicated to working and not to chatting, as well as being very respectful.”


This 58-square-meter house, the Jaspe model, will be finished in approximately a month, since the total building time is 2 months. The construction is reinforced concrete, the walls are finished in stucco on both sides. The model has three rooms: a bathroom, a combination living/dining/kitchen and a laundry area.  This one, however, has two rooms instead of three, as the owner decided to use the space of the third room as a kitchen, from there you can see what will be a lovely breakfast nook.

“As you can see, they are finishing the walls, and will be putting up the crown beam which is where they will anchor the vertical reinforcements that will support the walls.  It has an infiltration well, 5 meters deep and two in diameter, the sanitary system of the house when you can’t count on the public sewer system,” says Walter Castillo Vega, site engineer.

A month ago work began with leveling the land where the house will be located.  It was done with the owner, the page4image13280engineer, the master builder and the masons.  Once the perimeters were set, they proceeded with excavating the foundation and at the same time constructing the infiltration well that goes in the back of the house, six meters away from the house, they create the footing, fill in the concrete and begin to put up the walls.

The challenges continue for the Roncalli Association.  For the rest of the year, they have planned to construct at least nineteen more houses, with the objective of giving everyone a chance. “ The possibilities are numerous.  People can come in and talk—investing in a home is one of the most important decisions for a family. They can find options here, we have made this commitment, they can count on it, “indicates Novoa.


This is a translation of an article written by our partners at the Institute of John XXIII about our collaborative housing program in Nicaragua.

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The Inclusive New Testament Review

The Priests for Equality
West Hyattsville, MD, 1994, xxiv+468 pp.

Reviewed by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

Click here to purchase this book from (EEWC-CFT will receive a portion of the purchase price).As a member of the original National Council of Churches Inclusive Language Lectionary Committee that produced the three-volume An Inclusive Language Lectionary: Readings for Years A, B, and C, I was aware that a subgoup of my former colleagues was at work on The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version, recently published by Oxford University Press. So when I heard about The Inclusive New Testament, published in 1994 by the Priests for Equality, I thought: it figures–replication of feasts after centuries of famine. Now we have competing versions, where before we had nothing at all!

But having pondered both versions, I have felt my dismay turn to gratitude. Feminists who work closely with the Bible will need a copy of both versions; all others will have a choice in which they cannot go far wrong.

The goal of the Priests for Equality was to give to the English-speaking world a New Testament that would be “accessible to everyone, particularly to those who have felt that sexist language creates an uncomfortable (and, at times, insurmountable) barrier to their devotional life.” They have reached their goal with admirable grace.

Since it is impossible to overview the entire New Testament in a relatively brief essay, I will speak only about a few passages that have been part of my personal oppression and then, when understood inclusively, my liberation from that oppression.

Here, for instance, is what the Priests for Equality have done with Ephesians 5:21-22: “Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ. Those of you who are in committed relationships should yield to each other as if to Christ. . . .”

Not only is the appearance of one-way submission corrected in a way that is actually more in line with the Greek text, but the insights are made accessible to people in nontraditional relationships. In fact, the Priests for Equality frequently use the word partner where the Oxford version sticks to the more traditional husband and wife–so that in that sense, the Priests for Equality have achieved a degree of inclusiveness that surpasses the inclusiveness of the Oxford New Testament and for which we lesbian and gay people, among others, are profoundly grateful.

Along the same line, the Priests for Equality’s rendering of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 could not easily be misused as other translations have been. “. . . no fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, hustlers, pederasts, thieves, misers, drunkards, slanderers or extortionists will inherit God’s kindom. And such were some of you! But you have been washed. . . .” The emphasis is clearly on sexual and non-sexual abuses: and the reign of God is described, both here and elsewhere, by the communal and gender-inclusive term kindom, rather than kingdom.

Acknowledging that according to the extensive grassroots feedback they utilized, the top priority was the inclusive naming of God, the Priests for Equality have used such terms as Our God,, Almighty, or Sovereign. Jesus is called Firstborn or only Begotten rather than “son.”

“Son of Man” becomes Chosen One or Promised One. (In these cases, I prefer the Oxford version’s Child and Human One, chiefly because so many children are abused or marginalized because being human is too often undervalued, especially by the Religious Right.

“Lord” becomes Sovereign or Savior, and Jesus’ frequent references to “the Father” become Abba God.

Those who have winced at the misogyny of expressions like “the whore of Babylon” will see Good News in the rendering of Revelation 17:5, which describes the scarlet beast covered with blasphemous names. “This cryptic name was written on its forehead: Babylon the Great, Source of All Idolatry and of the Abominations of the Earth.” Instead of promulgating myths of specifically female-associated evil, the Priests for Equality have struck through that mask to the underlying meaning of idolatry, cultic practices, economic excesses, and debauchery.

The intention of the Priests for Equality was to make The Inclusive New Testament truly inclusive by focusing “on those whom society has marginalized: women, ethnic and racial minorities, lesbians and gay people, and those typecast in terms of their afflictions” (Introduction, p. xx). “We do not identify people as their afflictions, impoverishments or infirmities,” they write. “We do not refer to ‘the poor.’ but rather ‘poorer people’ or ‘people in need” –to show that poverty is not an absolute, easily delineated category of people, but a relative condition that touches everyone.” A person afflicted with leprosy is not called “a leper” but rather “ a person with leprosy” (p.xvii).

(Interestingly, the scholars who produced the Oxford version not only make the same point in their introduction but emphasize that such a translation is a more accurate rendering of the original Greek.)

The Inclusive New Testament features a readable and welcoming layout and typeface, an informative introduction and acknowledgments, and a helpful pronunciation guide. At $19.95 [the 1996 price], it’s an excellent buy; at the special offer of two copies of $29.95, it’s a steal.

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott is Professor of English of William Paterson College of New Jersey and is the author of numerous books, including Women, Men, and the Bible, and Sensuous Spirituality: Out from Fundamentalism.

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Abortion Rights: on the frontier in Nicaragua

Pope Francis recently made headlines when he announced that parish priests would be permitted to forgive women for abortions if they show “a contrite heart.” A positive step to be sure, but one which reveals the hard line the Church maintains, even under Francis, on the question of a woman’s right to choose. In Nicaragua, where abortion (even therapeutic abortion) has been illegal since 2007.

The 2007 law outlawing abortion was passed, in part, at the behest of Nicaragua’s Catholic and Evangelical churches. It rolled back all allowances for rape, incest, and the health of the mother, a regression which brought the country back into line with its neighbors. Now a local group, Catolicas por el Derecho a Decidir, are using the Pope’s recent announcement as a springboard for the cause of therapeutic abortion in Nicaragua.

The women behind the protest movement are petitioning their government and the Catholic Church to reinstate therapeutic abortions for cases of rape, incest, health of the mother, and economic hardship. To restrict a woman’s choice is a violation of her rights as a human being. To outlaw even therapeutic exceptions is inhumane and barbaric.

We at the Quixote Center stand with the women of Catolicas por el Derecho a Decidir.

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Oasis Project: Middle of the first growing season

An irrigation system

One of the irrigation systems, now operational

Last year the Quixote Center partnered with the Federation of Campesinos (Fedicamp) to construct irrigation systems for smallholder farmers in northern Nicaragua. Construction and training happened last winter, during the dusty dry season. Farmers were selected from among the communities who are members of the Federation, and focused on those families able to put multiple acres under cultivation, and who agreed to contribute seeds to Fedicamp’s growing network of organic community seed banks.

Elizabeth Sosa works with her family to cultivate onions. This family of seven lives in the municipality of San Juan de Limay.

Elizabeth Sosa works with her family to cultivate onions. This family of seven lives in the municipality of San Juan de Limay.

This year, those farmers were able to plant with confidence, even as the rain becomes less consistent. As global climate change continues, we expect greater variation in the arrival of rains for planting. Last year a prolonged drought nearly caused a famine in Nicaragua. The crisis was only averted through a costly government food import program. The key to success will increasingly be dependent on optimizing what water resources are available.

A drip irrigation setup

A drip irrigation setup

Each system is connected to a stream, well, or other reliable source of water. In the future, we may be able to construct cisterns for water storage on those farms which do not have access to these resources.

There are two types of systems that have been deployed. Drip irrigation systems are highly efficient and deliver water directly to the roots of the plant. They work well in all soil types and for a wide variety of crops and situations, from small patio gardens to farms and reforestation efforts. Currently, Fedicamp deploys these systems with two hundred liter barrels connected to a system of pipes and valves, powered by electricity. We hope to develop the use of solar PV systems to power these, though this method is currently cost-prohibitive.


Sprinkler systems require a well, and water is drawn through the use of a centrifugal pump. This electric pump pushes the water through a hose or pipe and past a sprinkler. The result is an even watering that effectively simulates the rain. Experience has shown that this type of system is effective for most crop types, and are more effective in densely cultivated areas.

A young corn crop

The young corn crop of Jose Francisco Gonzales, in the municipality of Yalaguina

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Growing strong, thanks to a consistent water supply.

Each of these systems allows families to cultivate their land with confidence, knowing that even if a drought occurs, their food will still grow. It also allows them to achieve greater efficiency of production, requiring less effort for each row of plants. The effects on the community are multiplied as the organic seed banks are made stronger through increased seed reserves and community participation.

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A Visit with Noam

dolly and noam 2

On April 10, I met with Noam Chomsky for 1/2 hour at MIT in Boston. Starting in the 1980s, I knew that he had been following the Quixote Center for many years, with special interest in our work in Nicaragua. Before going to Boston for the Catholic Organizations for Renewal meeting, I decided to ask for a meeting with Noam. Although most requests of this kind are refused, and considering the short timeframe, Noam’s response was “I want to meet her.”

Our meeting was warm and refreshingly candid. I shared with him our “Homes of Hope” plan for a sustainable home building program in Nicaragua and our latest QC Chronicles and annual report. I pointed out, with special pride, the offshoots of the Center over the last 40 years. He asked if we were still in touch with the groups, likely asking if the separations were amicable or turbulent. My answer was, yes, we are still in touch, if the organizations still exist. He was also curious to know if we were still in touch with members of the Sandinista government. Answer: “No.”

Noam has been to Nicaragua a number of times. I shared with him the pain the Center experienced following Bill Callahan’s final months and his death, along with the pride I now feel that the Center is back on its feet with strong, vibrant programs in Nicaragua and Haiti.

His assistant, Bev, after a ten minute extension of our allotted time, marched into the office with a bowl of soup for Noam’s lunch, insisting that the meeting was over. “Ok, Ok, it’s time for me to go – right now…” A photo, hugs, and warm handshakes, and I was gone.

Bev walked me to the elevator with her dog who goes to work with her. Noam is lucky to have her. She’s smart and smart-assed, funny, tough and a softie.

When I returned to DC and sent my bread and butter letter, Noam wrote back, “It was a real pleasure to have a chance to talk.  Can’t tell you how much I’ve admired the work of the Center over the years.”

Enough said.

-Dolly Pomerleau

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A Green Spring

The Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is a sea of green right now. That’s because the technicians have successfully planted and nurtured a new crop of young trees for distribution to local farmers, the Green Schools Network, and the model forest on Tet Mon. The trees in these images are scheduled for planting between June and August of this year, when the supply of water should be most consistent.

IMG_5508 IMG_5505 IMG_5506 IMG_5507

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A Letter to President Obama

The following is a letter to President Obama written by Noam Chomsky, Eva Golinger, and Miguel Tinker-Salas, and endorsed by the Quixote Center among other organizations and prominent individuals.

Dear Mr. President:

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, met your December 17, 2014 joint announcement with President Raul Castro of steps to normalize relations with Cuba with cautious optimism. For decades the US has been isolated in its policy on Cuba, both from the rest of the hemisphere and the rest of the world. For the 23rd year in a row, the UN General Assembly voted last October (188-2) to condemn the US embargo of Cuba.

The UN called on the US to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and regulations which violate the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction, and the freedom of trade and navigation.

We were pleased that the US was finally taking steps to come into compliance with international law. Yet our optimism turned to renewed concern the following day, December 18, when you signed a sanctions bill against Venezuela which appears to perpetuate the same failed policy toward Venezuela that you had just rejected toward Cuba. You hardened that policy on March 9 when you issued an executive order declaring a national emergency with respect to the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.” This action also verified that the US is stepping up its support for regime change in Caracas.

What is US hemispheric policy given this belligerent stance toward Venezuelan democracy? That is the question being asked by the world media and particularly by the sovereign States and multinational institutions of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which represents every country in South America, said your executive order constitutes a “threat of interference” against Venezuela’s sovereignty and calls on you to revoke the order. While politics in Venezuela is polarized and economic disruption caused primarily by the falling price of oil have caused long lines and falling poll numbers for President Nicolas Maduro, we see nothing that could conceivably be described as an “extraordinary threat” to the US or even to Venezuela’s closest neighbors. We note that Colombia, the US’s closest ally in South America and even the Venezuelan opposition have rejected US sanctions.

Compared to Mexico and Honduras where state violence is endemic and the rule of law tenuous at best, Venezuela is not at all outside the norm among nations. Venezuela is not at war with any nation, does not have military bases outside its borders, and is helping to mediate an end to the war in Colombia; it is a champion of peace in the region. To call it a national security threat to the US diminishes the credibility of your administration in the eyes of the world.

To those who know the dynamics in democratic Venezuela, this US policy stance is dangerous and provocative. To set the record straight, the Venezuelan government is democratically elected. Presidents Chavez and Maduro were both elected in what former President Jimmy Carter declared to be the best election process in the world. (The Carter Center monitors and reports on elections worldwide.) Your executive declaration, however, is likely to be taken as a green light to the most hard line and anti-democratic forces in the country to continue to commit anti-government violence.

We call on you, President Obama, to rescind your executive order naming Venezuela a US national security threat. We call on you to stop interfering through funding and reckless public statements in Venezuela’s own democratic processes. And most of all, we encourage you to show to our Latin American neighbors that the US can relate to them in peace and with respect for their sovereignty.


Noam Chomsky, MIT

Eva Golinger, Human Rights lawyer and author

Miguel Tinker-Salas, Ph.D., Pomona College*


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President Obama’s Cynical Declaration

Last week President Obama declared Venezuela a threat to United States national security, going so far as to characterize the country (operating under a duly elected President and legislature) a national emergency. He did so with the full knowledge that the statement is untrue. Rather, the declaration was made to satisfy United States legal requirements for issuing sanctions against individual Venezuelan leaders. What does this behavior say about the state of affairs in Washington as regards Venezuela? Nothing good.

We at the Quixote Center affirm our opposition to the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate and destabilize the elected government of Venezuela. We do this with the full knowledge that Venezuela is experiencing a dramatic political battle in the wake of President Chavez’s death two years ago. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has faced off with an increasingly energized opposition since assuming office, with both sides appearing to engage in violence in the streets.

Our condemnation of President Obama’s actions is based on our long-held position in support of maintaining democratically elected governments, even those considered embattled. By issuing sanctions against the Venezuelan government, the Obama administration harms regional progress and security, and provides an easy bogeyman for Venezuelan politicians who may seek a distraction from home-grown problems.

President Maduro has repeatedly accused the United States of supporting efforts to organize a coup in Venezuela. The Obama administration has repeatedly denied support for coup plots as ridiculous, but history tells us that these concerns are valid and ought to be brought out into the light for a true examination. If the United States is providing financial or moral support for an illegal change of administration, this support must end immediately because it would be both illegal and harmful to global security and cooperation.

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Oil Prices and Regional Solidarity

Oil prices matter beyond the pump. The recent drop in the price of crude (from $100 to $30 per barrel) has been cause for celebration in oil-consuming countries like the United States. An understandable reaction since it sometimes seems as if our economy is based entirely on this liquified fossil fuel. The impacts beyond the gas tank are, however, more complex and diverse.

The IMF recently warned that Haiti and Nicaragua stand to lose out because of the low oil prices. That’s because both countries (along with seventeen others) receive oil at a steep discount from Venezuela through the regional solidarity bloc PetroCaribe. Through the alliance, Venezuela offsets these discounts with profits from oil sales to other countries. With profit margins thinning and a series of local crises, some internal and some external, Venezuela’s ability to continue the program is now in question.

Like all national and international policies, I find it helpful to look at concrete impacts. In Nicaragua you needn’t look past the local bus stop. The country’s public transportation system is kept affordable because of the subsidized oil imports from Venezuela combined with Nicaraguan policies dictating reduced rates for travel by bus, van, and taxi both in urban centers and between them. These reduced rates allow people from the countryside to reach urban areas and the economic opportunities they contain. They make possible local trade networks for individual producers and small businesses. Without reduced oil from PetroCaribe, it’s quite possible that transportation costs could become prohibitive for those who rely most on public transit. In Haiti, the situation is much the same.

It’s unclear how long Venezuela can maintain these subsidies, but in the meantime continuing sanctions and denouncements from Washington are complicating rather than resolving Venezuela’s own internal conflicts. These conflicts also threaten regional initiatives like PetroCaribe, and in doing so carry the possibility of unsavory outcomes in fragile countries like Haiti and Nicaragua.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)