How a Nonprofit Agency Helps Latinos Thrive in Adams County, Colorado
By Mariela Michael
Wanting an Opportunity
For the past two years I have worked as liaison for the population of adult Latinos in Adams County, Colorado. I provide them with resources to obtain a vocational education. During this time I have encountered many Latino adults, who have been in this country for multiple years, and have shared with me their experience of zero to minimum opportunities in their countries of origin. With no other options they started a journey to this land of opportunity with the hope of realizing the American Dream. They arrived in this country to face a different language and multiple cultures. These Latinos have learned self-preservation while trying to add their own culture, values and ideals to the heterogeneous society to which they want to belong.
In place of their previous lack of opportunities, they had faced the challenge of proving that they are valuable to the workforce in fields like construction, landscaping, cleaning, etc. Initially they accomplish this and help support their families by working extra hours and multiple shifts for minimal wages and nearly no benefits, but with the satisfaction that their children will have a brighter future.
Their children, in turn, have the advantage of many scholarships and training opportunities provided by governments, foundations colleges and corporations. Today 2.7 million American born Latinos have bachelor's degrees and a minimum of 700,000 have advanced degrees (Hispanic.com, 2004).
Millions of Latinos arrive to this country every year. The newly arrived Latinos came to the "Land of Opportunities" looking for a better chance to improve themselves. They wanted to utilize their knowledge and education obtained in their own countries and embraced the conviction that a cleaning or labor job will not satisfy them. This brought many of them to the Goodwill Industries of Denver.
One Option for an Opportunity
Goodwill Industries of Denver maintains a contract with Adams County Human Services Department to fulfill its mission to create opportunities for individuals to change their lives and the lives of others while building a strong and sustainable community. One of the programs developed and designed with that purpose is the Advancement Plus program. Utilizing TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) funds, the program provides opportunities to working families in Adams County, Colorado to obtain vocational training needed to get a better job and a meaningful career. In the last two years, Advancement Plus has helped over 1,300 program participants, providing guidance, resources and support to help them live to their true potential and achieve self sufficiency. This program provides tuition assistance and other logistical support to attend vocational trainings for up to twelve months.
Latinos approved by the Advancement Plus Program, have enrolled for trainings, after long work shifts. Despite this stress and obvious hardship for their families and other Latinos, approximately two-thirds of our participants persevere in order to achieve more and show their children that education pays and it must be a lifelong pursuit.
Many of these dedicated Latinos have ventured into careers in the medical field such as Certified Nurse Aide. After completing four to six weeks of training, they obtain a license which allows single or stay at home Latino mothers to find employment and create a substantial new source of family income. Some have explored more extended trainings in the education fields and after completing a 12-month Early Childhood Education Certification, they become a liaison between the English-only educational system and Spanish-speaking Latino children trying to assimilate into American schools. This also provides parents the opportunity to be involved in their children's education. Others took a chance in transportation fields and after completing one to two months of intensive driving training, participants earned a Commercial Driver's License and over the road or local high paid driving jobs.
These examples make it clear that Latinos do move forward and do take advantage of opportunities given to them to improve their family lifestyle and adapt to this new homeland. Previous generations of Latinos settle down with the idea of getting an education only for their children and surviving by moving from job to job. However, the new generation of Latinos visualized themselves in a better position, allowing them to learn not just the language, but the skills to obtain a career. Moreover, to succeed and advance, directing them on the road to become the latest immigrant group to assimilate into the American fold.
Mariela Michael was born and raised in Merida, Mexico in 1976. In 2000, she graduated from University of Yucatan with a Law degree. She migrated to Denver, Colorado in 2006 and started working as an English as a second language instructor for Latinos in a private school. She is currently working at Goodwill Industries of Denver, in the Career Development department as a Resource and Training Specialist for the Advancement Plus program. firstname.lastname@example.org