The voice of the community: Bringing our programs to life at the 2019 UnidosUS Workforce Development Forum

When Rosario Vargas moved to Chicago after getting married in 2013, she left everything behind. She had a full life in Mexico, where she was from, and now she was living in her husband’s truck, feeling isolated. “I felt I was missing something. In Mexico I was someone, I worked, I was involved in the community, I was busy all the time. But here I was just sitting as a passenger. It was hard,” she explained. At the 2019 UnidosUS Workforce Development Forum, Rosario shared her story of finding purpose and community at our 2018 Affiliate of the Year, PODER and through our Latinos in Finance program.

Rosario Vargas, former student of Latinos in Finance at UnidosUS Affiliate PODER, shares her story at the 2019 Workforce Development Forum.

By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist at UnidosUS

After a year traveling from Canada to Laredo, Texas, in her husband’s truck, facing a great cultural shock and dealing with racism, Rosario wanted to go back to her previous life: “We didn’t have a home, we were doing everything in the truck. I read a lot to continue learning, and I was happy with my husband, but inside of me, there was something empty.” A year went by and Rosario got pregnant: now they have two kids who are 18 months apart, and that’s how she ended up becoming a stay-at-home mom. However, she was always involved with the community: it was in her nature to always do more, but there was still something missing. She wanted to go back to work in her field of business administration, but “I didn’t feel confident to apply to what I was qualified for,” Rosario continued describing.

After six months of filling out what felt like a thousand job applications, she decided to advance her education and enrolled in a community college to study English. She took a job in a warehouse while still taking English classes, and she was frustrated: “I knew I had potential,” she shares, and not only that; she also had a desire: she wanted to help people with their finances.

Opportunities for our community

With 43% of Latino households unbanked or underbanked, meaning they have little or no interaction with banks to manage their money, the UnidosUS’s initiative Latinos in Finance was created to train Latinos for employment in the financial services sector—increasing their annual wages and empowering them financially—and to help employers hire talent who can welcome and communicate with people who are Spanish-dominant—helping increase access to financial services for the underbanked communities.

2019 UnidosUS Workforce Development Forum
During two days, attendees learned what the future of work looks like, and had a lot of opportunities to connect with other organizations.

Rosario wanted to help Latinos manage their finances, to stop using alternative services, and to build their credit: “I wanted to be a part of that. I always try to help people, especially those who don’t feel comfortable speaking English.” So when PODER visited her English class at the community college and explained the different courses they offered, she immediately felt connected to the Latinos in Finance program.

Rosario explained in detail all the classes she took during her training, complimented the employees and teachers at PODER, and described all the skills she learned with Latinos in Finance: “This program really helps you develop soft and hard skills.” She speaks with passion, and it’s made clear she was truly invested in learning and developing a career in finance. “From PODER I got self-confidence, encouragement, and the belief that I can be whoever I want to be,” she shares. “This is just the start for a long career, because I don’t want to have a job, I want to build a career. I really want help people achieve their financial goals.”

A filled up forum

The conversation with Rosario happened on the second day of the 2019 Workforce Development Forum, during the breakfast plenary titled “Voices from the Field: An Inside Look at What Works.” Moderated by Natalie Vesga, nonprofit consultant and former Director of Literacy and Workforce at PODER, three more clients of our Affiliates shared their life story at this panel.

The panelists talked about how they ended up participating in these organizations’ programs and turning their life around: Héctor Castro, part of The Front Arte y Cultura Gallery from Casa Familiar; Kevin Aceituno, part of the Computer Literacy program at Building Skills Partnership; and Anthony Díaz Nazario, part of Paving New Paths to Success at One Stop Career Center.

The panelist of “Voices from the Field: An Inside Look at What Works”, from left to right: Kevin Aceituno, moderator Natalie Vesga, Anthony Diaz Nazario, Rosario Vargas, and Héctor Castro.

Professional development seminars, four workshops, three plenaries, and a Best Practices Café completed this forum experience filled with inspiring and thought-provoking sessions, plenaries speaking on what the future of work looks like, and a lot of opportunities to learn from and connect with other organizations, Affiliates, and UnidosUS. In the end, 196 people joined us for the Forum, and some shared what it was like to attend:

José Cardona, Instructor at One Stop Career Center, San Juan (Puerto Rico)

“This Forum has been excellent. It’s been a pleasure being here. Each workshop has been nourishing for us and we encourage other people to participate in activities like these.”

Barbara César, Director of Education for Centro Campesino, Florida City (FL)

“This is my first time attending the Workforce Development Forum, and it’s been a great enhancing opportunity. All the workshops have been great, extremely informative to better serve our community.”

Ruby Azurdia-Lee, President of Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES), Minnesota

“I was excited to come to the Forum. It was incredible, a lot of exchange of information, new knowledge, and a great opportunity to connect with others from across the country.”

“PODER gave us empowerment”

During PODER’s Latinos in Finance classes, students wrote a vision statement about their first day at work. Everything Rosario envisioned happened, and she now knows that “this is just the start of a beautiful journey.”

The audience was very interested in learning more about the panelists experiences.

During the Q&A section of the panel, an attendee asked Rosario what advice she would give a young lady who thinks that love is all you need in life. Having shared her story, Rosario said, “My relationship with my husband is full: each one has to bring their own success, their own responsibilities, and I want to share my happiness with him, not thinking that he is going to be my whole happiness. You have to find this balance, be with your family, but at the end you also have to look out for yourself, what fills you up, your passions. Have something that is just for you, not just your partner.”

The audience was impressed with Rosario resilience, drive, and accomplishments, and she was grateful for the chance PODER has given her: “I graduated from the first Latinos in Finance class at PODER, and that is exactly what they gave us: ‘empowerment,’ that is their name,” Rosario concluded.

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