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St. David’s Foundation partners with local nonprofits to address cycle of poverty, offer job training programs

This article was originally published by Community Impact as a part of their CI Storytelling initiative.

Access to high-quality jobs are a critical part of strong communities, and with support from St. David’s FoundationBastrop County Cares and SWTC Rural Training Center are helping to address the cycle of poverty with innovative ideas and evidence-based solutions.

Bastrop County Cares

Bastrop County Cares is a county-wide partnership of public, private, faith-based, and nonprofit organizations, institutions, and individuals that identifies and strengthens the social, health, educational, and economic opportunities in Bastrop County.

Through its Bastrop County Accountable Communities for Health coalition, Executive Director Norma Mercado shared how the nonprofit has been hosting community conversations, known in Spanish as platicas. These communal conversations provide a safe space for residents to share about the needs of the community.

“My experience working in community engagement is that communities and families usually have the solutions to the problem, they just don’t always know or have access to the resources [available to them],” Mercado said.

By investing in these conversations, Bastrop County Cares is reinforcing its commitment to community well-being and establishing a framework that empowers residents to actively participate in shaping a positive and resilient future for their community. The coalition’s goal is to provide support to these communities based on the resources they need to create solutions to some of the barriers and challenges they’re facing.

Mercado noted that tapping into organizations where families are already connected such as schools and faith centers is an effective way to meet community members where they are in a trusted space. Bastrop County Cares is partnering with four different rural school districts where area nonprofits can connect families to the essential community resources. For example, the organization will bring its mobile well-being and recreation unit, the Bastrop County Care-A-Van, to these platicas to promote fun recreational opportunities, intergenerational activities, and critical resources that improve the health and wellness of everyone in the community.

Bastrop County Cares will also partner with programs like WIC, the Smithville Workforce Training Center, and Community Action, as well as community health workers, to offer information and access to resources and services such as free mammograms, pregnancy-related services, and employment training to anyone who needs them.

The goal, Mercado said, is to eventually facilitate platicas via the Care-A-Van two to three times a week throughout the county, focusing on the communities of Bastrop, Elgin, McDade, and Smithville.

The organization is also launching its Bastrop County Fatherhood Collaborative, which is aimed at preventing child abuse, supporting fathers, and highlighting the importance of father figures in their children’s lives.

Bastrop County Cares is presenting “The Health Rodeo,” or rodeo de salud, at the upcoming Hispanic Festival de la Cultura on April 27-28. The event will feature pony rides, a petting zoo, and face painting activities, and Bastrop County Cares is inviting nonprofits and health agencies to come and set up a booth to share resources with families. Tickets start as low as $10 per day, and children under 12 get in free. Mercado said she anticipates anywhere between 4,000 to 6,000 people to attend.

In addition to these initiatives, Bastrop County Cares is looking to partner with local schools to support career and technical education, including pathways in technology and early college high schools programs, aiming to remove barriers for students and families and ensure equitable access to educational opportunities.

“For example, we see students who have dropped out of high school to enter the workforce program but they are unable to maintain steady employment because of various barriers such as a flat tire or they don’t have money for gas,” Mercado said. “That is where the partnerships with schools can play a vital role – —we can help meet those basic needs and provide additional support and mentorship by a designated Community Health Worker to ensure they can complete the program.

Empowering the Rural Workforce

Today, roughly one-in-three Central Texans are not able to earn enough to meet their basic needs. As our region experiences rapid population growth, and the corresponding cost of living and housing rises, there is an increasing number of people who cannot make ends meet.

In response to this growing need, The Smithville Workforce Training Center (SWTC) works to engage, empower, and employ individuals in Bastrop, Caldwell, Fayette, and Lee Counties. Through partnerships with educational partners, SWTC connects jobseekers to industry-based credentialed courses and then assists in job placement, empowering its rural workforce with the skills needed for high-demand careers and ensures rural employers have a local, robust workforce to recruit from.

Executive Director Janice Bruno said SWTC works specifically to provide training for the most in-demand jobs, which includes the healthcare industry, skilled trades, information technology, finance, and banking.

In 2022, SWTC received a $4.8 million Good Jobs Challenge grant from the Economic Development Administration for the eastern regional area which includes Bastrop, Caldwell, Lee, and Fayette counties. The goal is to engage, empower and employ 452 individuals over the next 18 months.

Through the Good Jobs Challenge grant, STWC offers training for a variety of industries and skills, including:

  • Health care – Registered Nurses, Licensed Vocational Nursing, Licensed Chemical Dependency Interns
  • Skilled trades – Heating & Air Conditioning (HVAC), Plumbing, Electrician, Welding
  • Certified Driver’s License (CDL program)
  • Banking/Finance – Loan Officers, Accountants, Auditors, Credit Counselors
  • Information Technology – Computer System Administrators, Computer User Specialists

In the field of health care, SWTC is partnering with Wellessential to offer Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes. Bruno said STWC has trained over 150 students and placed 127 of those individuals in a job. SWTC also partnered with Career Academy to train individuals in phlebotomy.

The REINVEST program is providing funding for 30 Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) and 18 Registered Nurses (RNs). SWTC is providing funding for 51 students in the Allied Health fields to include: Paramedics, Advanced paramedics, Surgical Tech, Dental Assistant, Dental Hygienists, and more. Six students are in the process of earning their Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor-Intern credentials.

Bruno said what makes the program special is the full case management support grant recipients receive.

“We pay for all of the trainings and the wraparound services to include the gas cards, one month of utilities should they need it, and rent if they qualify,” Bruno said. “Any barrier that a student faces, we try to find the resources to help the student all the way through the program including job placement.”

Working with local employers, SWTC is putting together a sustainability plan so that students are guaranteed to have the opportunity to apply for jobs with a target hourly rate of $18.00.

SWTC is also partnering with colleges and other educational partners in Bastrop, Caldwell, Lee, and Fayette counties. Individuals who qualify for the program can receive up to $10,000, depending on the career program. Bruno said she and her team are working to develop partnerships with smaller colleges and institutions to encourage them to expand into rural community’s area so students can reduce their commute time.

“I’ve got a vision for making the Smithville/Bastrop area a regional educational hub for the surrounding communities in Bastrop, Fayette, Lee, and Caldwell counties,” Bruno said.

Through a partnership with the Rural Whole Health Coalition (RWHC), SWTC and the Smithville Community Clinic also operates a mobile dental facility, “Health on Wheels”, that will offer medical, mental, dental health and training opportunities in rural areas. The first planned visit is scheduled for April 5-6, 2024 in Schulenberg, Texas with outreach plans to see over 300 patients this year across four counties.