By Estella Gonzalez, Assistant Director of Economic Opportunity.
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 was normal for us and the majority of our classmates.
While my parents – born in Mexico – never completed formal education, they understood how important it was for us. My mom taught her five daughters this valuable lesson while my dad ran his construction business.
By chance or by luck, we lived down the street from a community center run by BakerRipley. My mom made use of the available resources, ranging from English as a Second Language (ESL) courses to classes on how to cook healthy meals at home.
BakerRipley gave my mom confidence
During this time my mom struggled with English, but she continued to learn while raising five children. Even back then, BakerRipley offered classes in her native tongue. This gave her the confidence to get a job and return to work after nearly two decades. She worked as a nutrition worker in a 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, which provides education, connection, and resources to mostly Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.
We provide these services in Spanish because by meeting people where they are in their current stage of development, we can meet their needs quicker and have the most impact.
Adding barriers is not what we do
The work hasn’t been easy. I am often asked why some services are exclusively in Spanish—why don’t we encourage our 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 they 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 come back to us once we say you’re ready.
The partners that understand this and value our work have been crucial in helping us grow and reach more people.
Facebook upskill workshops
In 2018, Facebook became a corporate supporter and partner of our work with a grant from their Community Boost program. This is 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.”
In 2018 we rolled out a series of workshops in both English and Spanish. And today, we’re are on track to reach 200 students by summer 2019.
So far the Spanish language courses have been a great success. Our students are learning how to run analytics on their Facebook business pages, and 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. Every time a student tells me about how our services helped them grow their business, I think about my Father, a small business owner for 40 years.
With the help of our educational partners, we are proudly bridging the digital and technology skills gap for some of the most under-resourced entrepreneurs in Houston.
This story originally appeared in Digital’s Promise blog. It’s part of a series that explores the impact of local nonprofits and community-based organizations that provide adult learning and workforce development opportunities.