May 16, 2019 | By Estella Gonzalez
Digital Promise’s Adult Learning initiative is thrilled to launch Community Impact Stories, a new series of blog posts to highlight adult learner stories across the nation. The series will explore the powerful impact of local nonprofits and community-based organizations that provide adult learning and workforce development opportunities to families and communities. We invite partner organizations and learners themselves to share their stories moving forward.
Special thanks to Estella Gonzalez, Assistant Director of Economic Opportunity at BakerRipley, our partner organization in Houston, Texas, for sharing her family’s story.
Growing up in an immigrant community, speaking two languages never felt out of place. My sisters and I spoke Spanish at home and English at school; it seemed normal for us and the majority of my classmates did the same.
Even though both my parents were born in Mexico and never completed formal education, they understood the importance of a good education in the United States. My mom took the lead in teaching her five daughters this valuable lesson while my dad ran his own construction business. By chance, or by luck, we lived in a house down the street from a community center run by BakerRipley, a nonprofit organization focused on helping immigrants settle into their new homes in Houston. My mom quickly connected with the available resources, which ranged from English as a Second Language (ESL) courses to nutrition classes on how to cook healthy meals at home.
Back then, as a young daughter, I saw my mom struggle with English but she continued to learn as much as she could while raising five children. The support received through BakerRipley in having some educational classes in her native tongue gave my mom the confidence to apply for a job and return to work after being a stay-at-home mom for nearly two decades. She entered the local school district as a proud nutrition worker in the school cafeteria and worked there until she retired last year.
I think about my parents often in my daily work. I lead the Entrepreneur Connection program for BakerRipley (yes, that same nonprofit that helped my family during our early years), which provides education, connection, and resources to mostly immigrant and Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. We provide these services in Spanish because we truly believe that by meeting people where they are in their current stage of development, we can meet their needs quickly and have the most impact.
The work hasn’t been easy. I am often asked why we provide some services exclusively in Spanish—why don’t we encourage our program participants to speak English? The answer is complicated, as is the history of immigration in the U.S.
First, many of our program participants are bilingual but prefer to learn in their native tongue. Second, adding barriers to receiving support is not what we do at BakerRipley; we do not ask you to “fix” something about yourself and then come back to us once we say you’re ready. Partners that understand and, even more important, value our work have been crucial in helping us grow and reach more people.
For example, Facebook became a corporate supporter and partner of our work in 2018 with a grant through their Community Boost program. As part of Facebook’s commitment to training one million adults by 2020 in digital skills across the U.S., the Community Boost grant provides small businesses and entrepreneurs “the digital education and skills needed to compete in the new mobile economy.” We partnered with Facebook to upskill individuals through their curriculum by teaching entrepreneurs how to use social media platforms to improve their business pages and ultimately increase sales. We rolled out a series of these workshops in 2018, in both English and Spanish, and are on track to reach 200 students by summer 2019.
The Spanish language courses have been a great success; students are learning how to use their smartphones to run analytics on their Facebook business pages, and they’re receiving tips on how to run effective ads.
I do not take lightly the privilege of speaking on behalf of entrepreneurs who are often ignored and overlooked. I think about my father, a small business owner for 40 years, every time one of our students tells me about how our services have helped them grow their business. I am honored to work with these individuals who are employers in their communities, owners of mom-and-pop shops that are the heart of their neighborhoods, and proud residents of Houston.
With our educational partners, we are proudly bridging the digital and technology skills gap for some of the most under-resourced and in-need entrepreneurs in Houston’s booming entrepreneurial ecosystem.