Nely Bergsma brings a hope to troubled girls

NelyBirgs‘Iluminando la Comunidad’ series brought to you by ComEd

In January 2009, OneliaBergsma (also known as Nely) co-foundedPenedo Charitable Organization with her sister. The mission was to educate women and help them in their transition from sixth grade to college as Bergsma knows what it feels like to be an immigrant – she came to the U.S with her family from Cuba in 1967.

“I stay with the girls every day. I am very much involved. I became a mentor to a lot of them. We built such a wonderful place that the girls feel safe,” said Bergsma.

The PCO program enrolls 10 at-risk middle school girls and guides them through a tutoring and mentoring program that provides sustained intervention and resources throughout their middle school, high school and post-secondary education.

“We can’t change the reality but we give them the tools to deal with the reality. We give them good education. A lot of the girls have to deal with bullying, gangs, self-esteem. I stand there and support them through all of that,” said Bergsma.

But one of the main things that Bergsma is proud of is their retention rate of 93 percent. “We are very proud of the progress the girls are making. It’s not a perfect world but we keep them away from the streets, gangs and drugs. We are building a strong community.”

Bergsma believes that education is power if you want to make a difference in life. “It feels so good to give back to these girls and I feel very blessed that I am strong enough to do this. I am a “surrogate” mother to 30 teenage girls. I am constantly learning. They teach me a lot.”

Right now PCO is renting a space at a Lutheran church in Edgewater. Their goal is to have a bigger center in different parts of the city and even nationally, and increase the enrollment to 100 girls in 10 years.

“We are in the infant stage but so far so good,” said Bergsma. To find out more about PCO and how to get involved, go to

Just like Penedo Charitable Organization seeks to transform lives of young girls in the community, ComEd seeks to transform the energy consumption behaviors of its customers by providing them with information on how to save energy and money at home.

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