Uniting the Valley for a Better VIDA

... and how you can help!

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Uniting the Valley for a Better VIDA

VIDA career counselor Leslly Blancas discusses with VIDA students the importance of managing stress.
VIDA career counselor Leslly Blancas discusses with VIDA students the importance of managing stress.

In Spanish, the word vida means “life.” In the Rio Grande Valley, VIDA means a much better life for individuals and families and a stronger economy for communities across Deep South Texas.

The Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1995 by Valley Interfaith and a group of local business leaders. They realized providing people with education, training and support to obtain higher-paying jobs would result in a better life. This leads to a ripple effect of increased salaries and a stronger local economy. There is also the potential to attract more companies to the RGV. The group then decided to move from discussion to action. 

Students Amelia Ximenes (back) and Lizbeth Zarate (front) listen attentively as Leslly Blancas presents a session on stress management Oct. 1 in McAllen.
Students Amelia Ximenes (back) and Lizbeth Zarate (front) listen attentively as Leslly Blancas presents a session on stress management Oct. 1 in McAllen.

The basics of VIDA

Over the past 24 years, the organization has provided the tools for hundreds of Valley residents to build a better life. It has since developed priceless partnerships with local institutions of higher learning, community and business leaders, and community-based organizations. Valley Interfaith also continues to play a key role in VIDA’s success. 

VIDA provides the financial assistance students need to earn a certificate or an associate’s degree or to complete the final two years of a bachelor’s degree. Training programs include allied health, manufacturing, technology, business, education and social services, science/technology/engineering/math (STEM), specialized trades, and marketable skills. 

The organization’s staff and board of directors know it takes more than financial assistance to break down barriers. Therefore, the program’s design is that of wrap-around services. Students attend weekly counseling sessions — a combination of group and individual — that address these barriers.

According to Leslly Blancas, one of four career counselors, topics in weekly sessions include stress management, time management, study tips, how to prepare for an exam, and coping with depression, anger and anxiety. During individual sessions, students are referred to outside agencies for help with matters like childcare assistance and housing.

Mario Lozano, a current VIDA student, finds humor in VIDA career counselor Leslly Blancas’ presentation on stress management Oct. 2.
Mario Lozano, a current VIDA student, finds humor in VIDA career counselor Leslly Blancas’ presentation on stress management Oct. 2.

Local support helps change

VIDA takes pride in lifting unemployed and underemployed members of our community out of poverty and away from welfare dependence. Their increased wages are an obvious return on investment for its funders. These include federal, state and local governmental bodies, as well as businesses, private foundations and individuals. Weslaco Economic Development Corporation also provides funding to the organization.

“Our board thinks education is very important,” said Marie McDermott, executive director of Weslaco EDC. “VIDA provides an education for people who are struggling and need training to improve their lives.” McDermott applauds the organization for asking their students to volunteer in the community, too. “We call VIDA for volunteers for Alfresco Weslaco and other community events, and we are so pleased with them.”

Without local support, VIDA could not exist.

“We have been able to match local funds from municipalities, economic development corporations, private businesses and local foundations to secure state and national foundation monies,” said Tony Aguirre, chairman of the VIDA board. “We have also lobbied in Austin and in D.C. for state and federal funding.”

“The number of students VIDA serves depends on the funding received,” said executive director Priscilla Alvarez. Last fiscal year, the organization served 503 students and celebrated their 163 graduates. “Some years, we have served 700-800. It all depends on how much money we receive.”

Because they are well aware of the number of people in the Rio Grande Valley living in poverty, Aguirre and Alvarez offer a number of ways one can help provide a better VIDA:

  • A donation of $5,500 funds one student for one year. A matching grant from a company funds two students for a year.
  • A donation of $1,000 assists two VIDA students with child care, gas, and other goods and services that otherwise are barriers to success.
  • Speak to your local elected leaders to express your support for VIDA funding for people in your community

Beginning in December, Valley Business Report will shine a monthly spotlight on a VIDA graduate or a current VIDA student. To learn more about VIDA, call 956-903.1900 or 1-800-478-1770.

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