Cindy Monge

Working in sales provided Cindy Monge with a job but not with financial stability.
She established a long-term goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in perfusion science. As a perfusionist, Monge would run the cardiopulmonary-bypass machine during open-heart surgery, allowing the heart to be still for the surgeon while the machine performs its job, maintaining blood flow to the body’s tissues.
Monge also established a short-term goal that would align with her long-term plans. She decided to pursue an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy care. Monge then enrolled at South Texas College. She quickly discovered why the burden of tuition and books often cause people to stray from their goals. Then she heard about VIDA, the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement. VIDA addresses the need for skilled workers in the Rio Grande Valley by preparing the region’s unemployed and underemployed for high-skill, high-wage jobs. Students accepted into the program are assigned a career counselor who provides unique wraparound services designed to help them overcome the barriers that historically plague this demographic.
These services include weekly group counseling sessions covering topics such as time management, dealing with stress and finances. Sessions integrate soft skills like resume preparation, study skills and interviewing. Guest speakers also cover subjects like building savings, home buying and retirement planning.

Monge applied to VIDA and was accepted.  “VIDA has helped me financially,” Monge said, “making it possible for me to attend school.” For Monge, this financial assistance included help with tuition and books. In May, Monge reached her short-term goal, graduating from STC with an Associate of Applied Science in respiratory therapy care. Once she passes a credentialing exam through the National Board for Respiratory Care, Monge will be a certified respiratory therapist, working with doctors to provide therapy to patients with asthma, pneumonia, emphysema and other lung-related illnesses. With an AAS degree from an accredited college and a passing score on her board exam, Monge will earn state licensure, as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a respiratory therapist in 2019 was $61,330. Starting salary is generally over $40,000 per year. For Monge, a single mother of three, she knows her life is about to change.Now, she said, she will have financial stability. With VIDA’s help, Monge and her children will be living a more secure VIDA.

Adela Tann

Adela Tann had her future all figured out. She completed the Patient Care Technician program at South Texas College in 2013 and enrolled in the college’s Vocational Nursing program, graduating in 2015. Next on her list was earning the title of registered nurse. But before she could pass the National Council Licensure Examination, Tann moved to Iowa to help care for her sister, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In 2017, she returned to Texas and passed the test, earning her the title of licensed vocational nurse. But then this single woman, a resident of Pharr and a naturalized citizen from Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, who worked as a provider and earned $9.75 an hour, suffered another setback. Doctors diagnosed her with thyroid cancer. Tann completed her treatments and was preparing to pick up her career plan where she left off when she suffered a stroke that resulted in partial facial paralysis. This added another dimension to the language barrier that seemed to be a constant in her academic endeavors.

Overcoming And Discovering
In the fall of 2019, Tann enrolled in composition and psychology, two prerequisites required before students can apply to the Associate Degree Nursing program, which provides students with the credentials they need to take a licensure exam and, upon passing, become a registered nurse. She passed and was accepted into the program in 2020. While at STC, Tann learned about the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement, a nonprofit organization that utilizes a wraparound approach, providing financial assistance, college and career counseling, and other services to help Valley residents overcome life’s barriers and move out of poverty and into high-paying, high-demand jobs through education. Tann, now in her mid-40s, applied and was accepted. Because of the demands of the ADN Program, Tann reduced the number of hours she worked as a health-care provider. VIDA’s financial support significantly lessened the impact of a smaller paycheck. In May, Tann fulfilled the plan she set into motion back in 2013. “Without VIDA’s help, I would not have achieved my goals,” Tann said. Tann is currently working and studying for the NCLEX-RN exam. When she passes, she will be able to dramatically increase her salary because she will be a registered nurse. With VIDA’s help, Tann completed the plan she never lost sight of. “VIDA helped me achieve my goal and have a better future,” Tann said. “I have no words to thank them for all they have done to support me.”

Vyktoria Olivares

At the age of 18, instead of being consumed with thoughts of college dorms and freedom, Vyktoria Olivares’ thoughts focused on her infant daughter. How would she raise her alone while pursuing her goal of being the first in her family to graduate from college? She knew she had to leave the pain of the past behind. She had to focus on what she could do in the present to create a much happier future for herself and her daughter. Olivares’ parents divorced when she was four years old, and her grandparents raised her. At the age of 16, she moved out and went to live with her boyfriend. At 17, she gave birth to their daughter. The young family moved to San Antonio. Just before her daughter’s second birthday, the couple divorced. Olivares’ mother lived in Hawaii, her father lived in South Carolina, and all of her siblings lived out of state. The mother and toddler then moved to Brownsville to live with Olivares’ aunt. Eventually, Olivares and her daughter moved. Although receiving housing and food assistance at the time, Olivares’ goals included supporting herself and her daughter without government help. “I wanted to provide my daughter with the opportunity to come to me for guidance so she would not feel alone like I did,” Olivares said.

Changing the Trajectory
With the help of Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement, Olivares graduated in May with an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy care. She will now take a National Certification Exam to earn her certification as a respiratory therapist. Olivares will then take the National Board for Respiratory Care’s two-part examination to earn certification as a Registered Respiratory Therapist. She is one significant step closer to her goals. Thanks to the financial assistance from VIDA, Olivares was able to stay focused on school instead of trying to balance school while working to pay her bills and her school expenses. “VIDA has allowed me to become a positive role model for my daughter,” Olivares said. “I am providing her with the guidance she needs to empower herself through education.” In the process, Olivares has noticed a significant shift in her own self-confidence. Change is possible. By choosing to change her life trajectory, Olivares has chosen a much better VIDA for herself and her pre-teen daughter.

Jose Cavazos

When Jose Cavazos’s co-worker at Barcom Technology Services in Harlingen told him they had a service call at the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement office in Mercedes, he felt a sense of both nostalgia and excitement. Cavazos had considered stopping in VIDA’s former office in Weslaco several times, but it was always closed by the time he got out of work. “As soon as we walked into the building,” Cavazos said, “I got goosebumps.” Cavazos thought back to 2012, at the end of his second semester at Texas State Technical College, where he was studying computer systems management technology. Someone at TSTC told him about VIDA. It could not have come at a better time. Cavazos had worked in the housing market before moving to Indiana. After one-and-a-half years of being away from their family, he, his wife and their children packed up and headed home to the Valley. But Cavazos struggled to find a job. “At other jobs, I was always the makeshift IT guy,” Cavazos said. So in 2011, at the age of 40, he enrolled at TSTC.

Discovering a new VIDA
VIDA, Cavazos learned, has a unique service strategy, providing financial assistance for tuition, books, training tools and other necessities, as well as individual and group counseling. The program, in its 25th year, was designed to break down the barriers that often prevent unemployed and underemployed Valley residents from earning a certificate or degree that can transform their lives and the lives of their families. Cavazos applied and was accepted into VIDA. He called it “HUGE” that VIDA paid his tuition, as well as covering his books and supplies. They also provide him with a gas stipend during the three semesters remaining to complete his degree. “Going to school full time, I was not able to find a job,” Cavazos said. He did work part-time as a tutor on campus. Before he graduated, Cavazos was offered an entry-level position at the Barcom Help Desk. VIDA’s structure helped keep Cavazos on track and the staff inspired him to make it through any difficult times. “I was never a straight-A student,” Cavazos said. “I was a B-C student. Having that support was huge. I graduated with a 4.0 average.”

Commitment Leads to Success
Cavazos’s wife and children also encouraged him to keep going. Cavazos said he became a role model for his children. They would see him earning straight A’s, making it impossible for them to tell him their schoolwork was too difficult. Cavazos earned his associate’s in CSMT in 2013. He is now the lead client-experience manager and an IT technician at Barcom. He credits the Barcom management for seeing the value of his degree and recognizing the importance of his pre-degree customer service, sales and management experience. “The degree showed them a level of commitment,” Cavazos said. With VIDA’s financial help and wraparound services, the support of his family and his own determination, Cavazos is now living a life he loves.