Local real estate agent makes a difference in early education

Local real estate agent makes a difference in early education

By Regine Victoria (Courtesy photo)

Cookie Balcha wasn’t born in Alexandria. Her parents sent her away from Ethiopia to live in the Port City when she was 16 years old so she could have a better life. And now, she’s trying to help provide a better life for children here.

During the summer, Balcha, now a local real estate agent, sponsors free movie screenings for the public on Prince Street.

“It’s a way to keep kids out of trouble,” Balcha said. “There’s nothing else to do. But it’s also a way to bring the community together and create fun and memorable experiences for everyone.”

Balcha also serves as a mentor to about a dozen children. They are sent to her from Alexandria’s programs: some are from the city court system, working to do community service, and others are part of a summer youth program to connect mentors with young people.

“It’s a way to help out, especially the younger ones,” she said. “I love giving back to the community.”

Balcha said she has been giving back to the community as long as she’s been in Alexandria. When she first moved to the city after the end of her first year of high school, the summer proved to be long and boring. She decided she wanted to fill her time by helping out.

The first place Balcha called to volunteer only offered work for four hours a month. She wanted more and the second place she called gave her exactly that. She has been working at the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington ever since.

Additionally, Balcha is a partner with Salon Amarti on Prince Street. The business gives free haircuts to about 25 children, both boys and girls.

“We give these kids free haircuts and they look good just in time for the start of the school year,” Balcha said.

Balcha’s latest venture is to start a preschool for low-income families. It all started when she was looking at preschools for her own two children. Balcha noticed there were long waiting lists for many of the schools, but she didn’t understand why.

While she was helping one of her friends carry a box of toys, she saw children playing outside and realized that they would not be able to go to preschool. While talking to coworkers and other parents, many of them contemplated whether they could afford the city’s preschool offerings. That’s when Balcha got the idea to start her own preschool.

To help cover costs at the new school, tuition will be on a sliding scale, depending on a family’s income. The one stipulation is that parents must either be working or training to work. Though renovation has just begun, Balcha said the school should be open by the end of September. The preschool will be located on North Alfred Street.

Balcha said her choice of day job in real estate also comes from a desire to help others succeed in Alexandria. She chose to pursue a degree in business and a career path in real estate because she knows the importance of having a home.

“Having a home is having stability,” she said. “Once you get a home and you don’t have to worry about it anymore, you can then focus on accomplishing your goals and following your dreams.”