Interview with Berniz Constanza

Berniz Constanza’s life was forever changed by the bravery of her mother, and the generosity of a teacher.

Berniz is the daughter of a woman who fled a civil war in Guatemala and found herself an undocumented immigrant with a small child in the United States. She had language barriers and did not know how the school system worked in the United States, yet she worked double shifts, hoping that this would help her family succeed.

Mrs. Flores saw something in this 12-year-old girl, and it was this gift that changed the course of Berniz’s life. She not only excelled at the clarinet, but her belief in herself and her ability to succeed skyrocketed.

At school, Berniz fell in love with band class. When her teacher, Mrs. Flores, found out that Berniz’s mother could no longer afford the rental fee on Berniz’s clarinet, she decided to cover the cost herself. Mrs. Flores saw something in this 12-year-old girl, and it was this gift that changed the course of Berniz’s life. She not only excelled at the clarinet, but her belief in herself and her ability to succeed skyrocketed.

Berniz went on to attend college and launched into a successful career built around education and under-resourced famlies. She is now the Education Manager at Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) in Grand Rapids, MI, and a member of the Board of Directors at Tent Schools International. We asked her about her passion for education and dedication to families that face barriers to healing and success.


TSI: Thanks for talking with us, Berniz. Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?

Berniz: I was born in Guatemala and raised in Southern California by a mom who taught me the meaning of hard work. At age 14, I got my first summer job at the Artesia City Hall ensuring that under-served children had a mid-afternoon meal throughout the summer. Growing up with limited resources, I made a commitment that I would make it my mission to ensure that, as much as it was up to me, I would live a life of service to those in need. But, I wanted to know that the work I was doing would both alleviate poverty and empower people with dignity. This is what others did for me. Now, my husband Aaron and I are committed to doing this in the great city of Grand Rapids where I work at ICCF to educate future homeowners.

Syrian children in Jordan

TSI: What is your role at ICCF? What is the best part about your job?

Berniz: I’m currently the Housing Programs Manager at ICCF. My team and I provide Housing Counseling Services to prepare community members to own their own homes. We create an action plan that moves them forward, and provide financial management education on budgeting, credit, debt reduction, savings, fair housing, consumer protection, insurance and pre-purchase assistance programs. The best part of my job is the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people who promote financial wellness so that my community becomes a place where affordable homeownership can be a reality. Knowing that I have the opportunity to assist people like me in making places to come home to makes me excited to wake up and go to work every morning!

TSI: You are drawn to work that is educational and benefits people with limited resources. Why do you think that is?

Berniz: Many people are drawn to serve individuals they can identify with. During my childhood, I had limited resources and my mom ingrained in me the importance of receiving an education to further myself in everything that I put my heart and mind to. Education brings hope to people, and hope has the power to change the trajectory of a generation.

“Everyone deserves to be respected, heard, and educated. Throughout history, and especially today, refugees, the poor, and the displaced rarely receive what they deserve. Education is a human right and should be accessible for everyone. Tent Schools International works to level the playing field so that refugees can receive hope and a future.” – Berniz Constanza Terpstra

TSI: What inspires you about the mission of educational access for refugee children?

Berniz: Everyone deserves to be respected, heard, and educated. Throughout history, and especially today, refugees, the poor, and the displaced rarely receive what they deserve. Education is a human right and should be accessible for everyone. Tent Schools International works to level the playing field so that refugees can receive hope and a future.

TSI: What do you hope to see TSI and its supporters accomplish in the future?

Berniz: Around the world, millions of people are being displaced at record numbers. Portable education through technology can provide education for every camp around the globe. Tent Schools International will equip the children of today with the education they need to become the answer to the challenges in their countries tomorrow.

Berniz Constanza Terpstra has been a member of the Board of the Directors for Tent Schools International since 2016.

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