Life was good for Etta King when she moved to Weslaco in 2011 from Lake Tahoe, Cali. Five years later, her world turned upside down. Her husband left, creditors repossessed her car and eviction forced her to move from their home to a small apartment. With no money, she had to attend divorce court without legal representation. Her only family in the Valley consisted of her two sons and daughter. She also could not leave the Hidalgo County area with her children because of a court-mandated restriction.
To support herself and her children, King enrolled in South Texas Vocational Technical Institute, earning a certificate as a medical assistant in 2017. She wanted to continue in school, but her work schedule and caring for her children made that an unimaginable feat. She summoned up the courage to call her parents in California to tell them everything she had been through and to admit she needed help.
“My wonderful parents, without hesitation, packed their bags, sold their house and moved here to Weslaco to help me continue following my education and career goals,” King said.
In 2018, King completed the Emergency Medical Technology Program at South Texas College.
“I learned very quickly that it is truly a struggle to not only work full time but also attend college full time,” King said. “But I pulled through and received my certificate as an EMT-Basic. This, however, wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more education, and I wanted a degree.” She set her sights on becoming a paramedic.
In early 2019, King began working as an EMT. Six months later, just as she was to start her Advanced EMT training, an on-the-job injury resulted in King herniating three of her lower lumbar disks. Her pain was both physical and emotional as she realized this injury would prevent her from a career in her chosen field, especially as she aged.
“I have always held a spot for teaching in my heart,” King said.
Timing is everything. Just as this thought took hold in King’s mind, a friend told her about the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement. Prior to the start of her second semester, she applied to VIDA.
“I applied to VIDA, not really knowing what to expect,” King said. “At this point, I was a single mother of three, holding down two to three jobs just to make ends meet. My parents lived with me, and I paid all the bills, this being the agreement so my children would be able to stay home and not have to attend daycare.” King received no child support from her ex-husband.
Looking To The Finish Line
When the pandemic hit, King transitioned from face-to-face instruction to taking five online classes. She was also working mandatory overtime as a first responder for a local company while working as a technician for South Texas Health System Weslaco ER. Her acceptance into VIDA made all the difference.
“Without the help from VIDA,” King said, “I wouldn’t have been able to make it.” VIDA’s help, King said, allowed her to re-focus on her goal to earn an associate’s degree without all of the added stress of working overtime and struggling to pay for school.
In May, King will graduate with an Associate of Arts in Teaching. She will continue college until she earns her bachelor’s degree.
“I would like to teach the medical assistant/EMT program at a local high school,” King said. “I am so thankful for all the help and all the support VIDA has given me. My VIDA case manager has always been there to support me, guide me, and make sure I stay on the right path. I am unbelievably blessed to be a part of such a truly wonderful program as VIDA.”
VIDA’s unique service strategy provides financial assistance (including tuition, books, training tools, and child care), individual and group counseling from a career counselor, and access to guest speakers and community-service opportunities. These wraparound services, by design, break down the barriers that often prevent unemployed and underemployed Valley residents from earning a certificate or degree that could change the trajectory of their lives. To learn more, visit vidacareers.org.