For four decades, the Rev. Ed Roden-Lucero has influenced El Paso far beyond the walls of the parishes he pastored. He has been a key part of efforts to bring water and sewer services to tens of thousands of homes, and train hundreds of El Pasoans for jobs that paid a living wage and altered lives....
Those who worked with him said he fought poverty and injustice wherever he saw it. EPISO was involved in efforts to build El Paso Children’s Hospital and expand University Medical Center clinics across the county so that more people would have access to health care.
While Roden-Lucero served as pastor of San Juan Diego Catholic Church in Montana Vista, EPISO led an effort to divide the Clint Independent School District Board of Trustees into single-member districts so that power and resources were more evenly divided.
Roden-Lucero arrived in El Paso a couple of years after a group of mostly Catholic churches formed the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, or EPISO, a nonprofit organization that trained community-based leaders to advocate for issues important to them. He had received training from the Industrial Areas Foundation, EPISO’s parent organization, before coming to El Paso.
EPISO leaders quickly focused on the dire situation in colonias, neighborhoods along the U.S.-Mexico border that had been developed without the most basic human services. By the mid-1980s, more than 80,000 El Paso County residents lived in homes without water or wastewater services. Many of them developed hepatitis A because they drank from water wells dug next to septic tanks.
State and local leaders had shown little interest in addressing the growing crisis. So EPISO and other IAF affiliates across Texas organized and turned up the heat, bringing national media attention to shameful conditions along the border.
Dolores DeAvila, an educator in El Paso’s Lower Valley and EPISO member, met Roden-Lucero in the early 1980s and was part of the fight to bring water to the colonias.
“I have learned a lot from him in terms of his being very courageous, acting on his beliefs and working with his parishioners, engaging them in their needs,” she said.
Years of lobbying and public pressure by EPISO and its sister organizations paid off in 1989, when Texas voters passed a bond issue to begin the process of providing water and wastewater infrastructure to border colonias....
[Photo Credit: Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters]
The Priest Who Spent 40 Years Fighting to Reshape El Paso, El Paso Matters [pdf]
Back in 1992, she was an organizer for COPS/Metro Alliance when the powerful community organization designed and persuaded the City to financially back Project Quest, which early on and to this day has been recognized as one of the most successful job training programs in the country. In 2011, when Project Quest was plagued with controversy from failings due not to corruption but to incompetence, Sister Pearl was brought in to turn it around. She did and ran the organization for six years.
Now the City of San Antonio is embarking on SA: Ready to Work, a program approved by the voters last November that will spend $154 million over five or six years in an effort to train the city’s working poor for good-paying jobs that the city is now generating.
[Photo Credit: Nick Wagner/San Antonio Report]
“That’s one heck of a bloated bureaucracy from the get-go,” said Sonia Rodriguez, a COPS/Metro leader who worked on Nirenberg’s Ready to Work campaign.
The city’s ideas drew fire from Rodriguez and others at COPS/Metro — a local grassroots advocacy group that actively promoted Nirenberg’s plan to use sales tax dollars over the next four years to prepare San Antonio workers for higher-paying jobs. The organization founded Project Quest, a workforce development program, more than 25 years ago.
COPS/Metro officials knew the city would have to create some apparatus to run the program, they said during an Express-News editorial board meeting Thursday — but not one as large as what the city is putting forward.
San Antonio already has organizations with experience in providing workforce development and “wraparound services” such as academic remediation, child care services and job placement, COPS/Metro leaders said. Therefore, there’s no need to build a brand new organization or look outside of the city for expertise.
“We’re saying that the city has resources available without going out to hire someone from the outside,” said Sister Jane Ann Slater, another COPS/Metro leader.
Instead, COPS/Metro officials said, the city should work with Alamo Colleges, Project Quest and existing organizations to bolster workforce development efforts. They have the skills to bring in applicants, educate and train them but need help in getting the graduates into jobs.
“This is the right time for residents and organizations to provide feedback on the administration of SA Ready to Work, and we value COPS/Metro’s input as we work toward the program’s summer 2021 implementation,” Nirenberg said.
COPS/Metro was a key player in pushing the workforce proposal.
For example, COPS/Metro targeted “low propensity” voters — typically younger, newly registered or infrequent voters — in 25 voting precincts to turn out for the measure.
'Bloated Bureaucracy': San Antonio Organizers Blast City Efforts to Enact Nirenberg's Workforce Plan, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro Leverages 77% Support for 'SA Ready to Work,' Calls for Full Accountability in Implementation
On Nov. 3, 77 percent of San Antonio voters approved Proposition B, Ready to Work SA, and 73 percent approved Proposition A, Pre-K for SA. These outcomes clearly indicate San Antonio’s desire to invest in its most important resource, its people.
COPS/Metro and our sister organizations in the [Texas] Industrial Areas Foundation, or IAF, made it possible for both to be on the ballot by authoring the state’s Better Jobs Act in 2001. This law allows cities to invest sales tax dollars in early childhood education and job training. Passing Ready to Work SA is the latest in a series of victories in COPS/Metro’s decades-long strategy to invest in human development. Others include the creation of Project QUEST, Palo Alto College and the San Antonio Education Partnership.
COPS/Metro created a program that blossomed into a nationally recognized model because of its extraordinary results for its participants. We named it Project QUEST.
The wraparound services, tutoring and counseling provided for every single participant produced remarkable results. On average, 90 percent of Project QUEST participants graduate and are placed in higher paying jobs with benefits.
COPS/Metro’s leaders delivered more than 50,000 voters in support of Ready to Work SA because we believe in investing in people. This commitment has propelled the city of San Antonio into a national leadership role for COVID-19 recovery.
[Photo Credit: Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News]
Commentary: Accountability Key to Workforce Program, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
A trio of sales tax measures to train San Antonio workers for new jobs, expand public transit and renew the city’s early childhood education program were passing by an overwhelming margin with a majority of the vote counted Tuesday night.
The workforce and VIA ballot measures had little organized opposition while the forces in favor had the backing of business leaders, heads of chambers of commerce and grassroots organization COPS/Metro. The two campaigns, plus the third to renew Pre-K 4 SA, spent more than $1.7 million to convince voters to pass all three measures.
The workforce proposal was COPS/Metro’s baby. The organization — which founded the workforce development program Project Quest more than 25 years ago — pushed City Council earlier this year to pump $75 million into workforce development as part of a $191 stimulus package and later put their weight behind the ballot measure.
On Wednesday night, COPS/Metro leaders felt vindicated — though they recognized the win likely wouldn’t have happened without the suffering and heavy toll wrought by the pandemic.
Sister Jane Ann Slater and Cathy McCoy, organizers with COPS/Metro Alliance, attended the small SA Ready to Work election night watch party at Augie’s Barbed Wire Smokehouse with Nirenberg. They saw the voters’ support as validation of the work done by Project Quest, a workforce development program founded by COPS/Metro that will serve as the model for the larger program.
To gain support for the ballot measure, the grassroots organization made a concerted effort to reach voters who may not have normally voted on local propositions – or at all, McCoy said.
“It was an educational process, I think,” Slater said. “We reached voters” by phone and in person.
[Photo Credit: Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News]
San Antonio Voters Approve Ballot Measures for Workforce Development, Transit & Pre-K, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
San Antonio Voters Give Thumbs-up to Workforce, Pre-K, and Transportation Ballot Measures, San Antonio Report [pdf]
Voters will be asked to approve a 1/8-cent sales tax to fund job training and college degrees for San Antonians who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money also would help participants pay rent and other living expenses while they complete those programs.
The sales tax revenue would be dedicated to those purposes for four years....
“Today, San Antonians need this investment more than ever,” Virginia Mata, a leader of the grassroots coalition COPS/Metro told council members Thursday. “It is not only the right thing to do but also the right investment. The seeds that you plant today will have a lasting effect and will help San Antonians rise from the shadows to the light.”
[Photo Credit: Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News]
'We Need Action Now': Sales Tax Proposal for San Antonio Economic Recovery Now in Voters' Hands, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro, a network of grassroots community and religious organizations, wants $200 million of the city’s and county’s stimulus funds to underwrite what it describes as a GI Bill for the working poor. After beefing up the city fund for emergency housing assistance, COPS/Metro is calling for putting jobless workers through school at Alamo Colleges with a stipend.
“It would be a down-payment for the long term,” said Steve Mendoza, a COPS/Metro leader and co-author of an Express-News guest column outlining the proposal. “Tourism is not going to come back right away. And if we continue to focus on tourism, we’re going to get the same” dependence on low-wage jobs.
He added: “When there’s a crisis, there’s an opportunity.”
[Photo By William Luther, San Antonio Express-News]
Jefferson: $270 Milllion In Stimulus Aid Won't Plug Holes In San Antonio Budget, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
The economic odds facing Avigail Rodriguez a few years ago couldn’t have been much worse. An undocumented immigrant and a single mother, she lived in a cramped apartment in a tough neighborhood in San Antonio and earned just $9 an hour working as a nurse’s assistant.
Today, Ms. Rodriguez, 26, owns her own home in a safer area, earns nearly three times as much as she did before and has secured legal residency. The key to her turnaround was a training program called Project Quest, whose own ability to beat the odds is no less striking than that of Ms. Rodriguez.Project Quest has succeeded where many similar retraining efforts have failed, taking workers lacking in skills and successfully positioning them for jobs where they can earn double or triple what they did previously.
“This really gives employers a chance to find workers they wouldn’t otherwise have considered,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. “At the same time, it provides opportunities to a rather disadvantaged group of workers, both younger and older.”
Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio where poverty rates are above the citywide average. After the closing of a Levi Strauss factory there, community groups [i.e. COPS/Metro, see comment at right] created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.
[Photo Credit: Joanna Kulesza, New York Times]
Job Training Can Save Lives. See How San Antonio Does It., New York Times [pdf]
Project QUEST, the nonprofit workforce development organization created more than a quarter-century ago by the COPS/Metro Alliance, has been awarded a $1 million grant that the organization says will allow it to serve more San Antonians with expanded job training programs.
The award comes from the Rockefeller Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as part of their Communities Thrive Challenge, which awarded $1 million each to 10 organizations across the nation, working to “help low-income and financially insecure people find and retain well-paid, meaningful work, achieve financial security or build economically vibrant neighborhoods.”
San Antonio’s Project QUEST wins national $1 million grant, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
One week before the San Antonio City Council votes on the municipal budget, COPS / Metro leaders descended on City Hall to call for increased funding for long-term workforce development program Project Quest. Increasing the city's investment in Quest from $2.2 Million to $ 2.5 Million would enable the program to train an additional 100 residents for new jobs.Read more