Verizon’s Community Forward program is an ambitious, forward-thinking, society-shaping effort to enhance Houston’s community vitality by addressing the widening Digital Divide.
The impact of Verizon’s Tech Education and Career Training is seen through many families’ stories across our Houston communities. The full power of these programs will only be completely felt — or totally realized — in generations to come.
We can’t tell every one of these impact stories today, but you need to hear two unique immigrant family stories whose lives and futures are brighter and more secure because of this program.
Meet María Santos and Aracely Villeda, two Houston-area immigrant women who embody the proactivity, resilience, and community-mindedness that makes our Houston communities so strong.
María Santos earned multiple Verizon devices through participation in the Tech Education classes.
María Santos first stepped into Houston over two decades ago, arriving from Veracruz, Mexico, with many challenges. She had little money and few job skills, leading to even fewer career options. She found work where she could: cleaning houses, working in a candle factory, and caring for seniors in their homes. But none of these jobs would create the Houston life she dreamed of.
“It’s then that I realized how important it is to be able to speak English .. to get better jobs here,” María says. But while she was committed to succeeding, she also wasn’t sure how to proceed.
Aracely Villeda’s story began with an incredibly challenging journey. Her border crossing ended at the McAllen Immigration Detention Center, where she and her daughter were held for months. Finally, after not knowing what legal options they even had, they were released with a mandatory government tracking device, setting foot on Houston soil for the first time in 2018.
Fortunately, Aracely met a caring family willing to give her lodging in exchange for domestic work. And while her tracker was removed, she still didn’t know how to work towards legal status for her and her daughter. Like Maria, she had few job skills or opportunities and spoke no English. Unlike Maria, Aracely was about to learn her troubles were only beginning.
At the end of 2018, Aracely was diagnosed with breast cancer.
For either woman — and for many people in similar circumstances — this could be the end of the story. Few good options. Little resources to draw upon. What were they to do?
A NEW OPPORTUNITY
For both women, Verizon’s digital learning opportunities — created by BakerRipley in partnership with Verizon — was a turning point in their lives.
“A year ago,” says María,” I went to BakerRipley to learn English. While I was there, the BakerRipley team introduced me to the Verizon program. I was immediately curious, because I knew I needed digital and online skills if I wanted to progress in my career.”
Not only did she take digital classes, she embraced small business training, as well. “I knew I needed this training because I knew one day I would own my own business.”
Aracely learned about the Verizon program through her daughter, who was attending 2nd grade at BakerRipley’s Gulfton Sharpstown Charter school. This was during COVID-19, and all of the classes were online-only. Neither she nor her daughter knew how to operate the school-provided iPad or navigate the online classes. When she approached the teacher for help, Aracely was introduced to the Verizon online program.
“Yes,” Aracely responded immediately, “I’m super interested because I also want to learn English, and I want to do that online.”
Both women dove in head-first, taking the initial 3-week course. They first learned the basics of using computers, devices, and the Internet.
“That was important,” Aracely explains, “because these classes help families like mine overcome a fear of the unknown … in this case of technology and the internet. It creates a sense of accomplishment. That if we can master this, we can succeed at other important challenges in life, as well.”
Next, they learned specific programs and applications that broadened their career and life horizons. For María, this meant learning skills that would allow her to take on more responsibility at her job at a locally-owned flower shop.
“Learning Excel was not my favorite,” María recalled, “but that allowed me to organize the business. But also, I’ve created my own side business using the jewelry-crafting skills I learned at the BakerRipley classes. Now I sell my own jewelry online, using Excel to track my sales, expenses, and revenue.”
The impact of Verizon’s program is unique to every individual, but for each of them it is profound. María was able to become a leader at the floral shop in which she works, taking responsibility for the online tracking of inventory, sales, and marketing. Aracely, on the other hand, was able to take control of her medical treatment, verifying and researching the procedures and prescriptions her doctors suggested.
For each student in the Verizon program, the tools and skills learned dramatically increases their appetite and ability to live a fuller, more resilient, more hopeful life … for themselves, their families, and their communities.
María has combined what she learned at BakerRipley’s jewelry-making classes with her digital skills to start her own online jewelry boutique.
María aims to use her new skills to franchise a clothing and apparel company from California, introducing their goods into this new Houston market. That’s in addition to expanding on her own online custom-jewelry boutique.
For Aracely, she’s using her skills not only to explore digital career opportunities, but to safeguard her health — and the health of her family — so they can live long, successful lives in their Houston community.
María pauses for a moment, considering. “The skills I’ve been learning have definitely allowed me to dream bigger. I’m more productive. I’m more prepared. Obviously I’m super grateful for the volunteers and supporters.”
Aracely expresses similar gratitude. “I’m extremely grateful for the fact that BakerRipley and Verizon enable these programs. I would love for the program to continue for many years to benefit and impact other families like mine. Houston is full of families like mine, and everyone should be able to benefit like I have.”
These programs are creating opportunities and closing the digital divide. They are strengthening our communities, today and for years to come. But they don’t happen without caring supporters, volunteers, and workers who make them possible. And that includes you, our caring BakerRipley friends, partners, and donors.
So we thank Verizon for their vision and engagement. And we thank you and every BakerRipley friend who makes all of our programs possible.