The team at Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement knows all too well about doors closing in keeping underemployed and unemployed people in the Rio Grande Valley from career advancement and higher pay.
Janet Oliva Cortez knows about those challenges.
Cortez works for the Weslaco Independent School District as a data entry clerk. It’s a good employer, secure job, and a decent salary. Cortez knew, however, that without a degree, when doors to higher-level positions opened up, they would be closed to her.
Cortez heard about VIDA from Leslly Blancos, a career counselor with the organization. Blancos told Cortez that VIDA helps participants pay for tuition, books, equipment, and other necessities that can prevent people from earning the degree or certificate that will make them eligible for high-demand and good-paying jobs. VIDA also offers counseling and guidance as part of their wraparound services.
Once Cortez enrolled in VIDA, she completed her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership at South Texas College in 10 months. VIDA’s counseling proved invaluable for Cortez.
“Counseling sessions helped me because I was taking on too many roles,” Cortez said. “My counselor (Blancos) told me it is OK to say no. She asked me to prioritize my tasks and to do the most important ones, (with) the ones with deadlines, first.”
VIDA’s career counselors also address mental health, knowing failure to do so often results in fewer opportunities.
“Leslly encouraged me to find ways to relieve my stress and to continue working on my studies,” Cortez said. “The financial support, paying my tuition, alleviated a lot of my worries.”
Cortez is now a college graduate. Though she has decided to stay in her position with WISD for now, she knows doors to advancement are no longer closed to her.
“Now that I have a bachelor’s degree, I will be able to apply for other job opportunities,” Cortez said. “VIDA truly helped me get to the finish line.”