VIDA targets training, high-wage jobs for region

Based on economic output, every $1 invested in the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement returns $14.74 in benefits to the communities served, according to an economic impact study prepared for the organization by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

VIDA is a community-based 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping unemployed, under-employed and low-income individuals and their families escape the cycle of poverty and achieve self sufficiency in the Rio Grande Valley through education and training for higher-skill, higher-wage jobs. VIDA was created in 1995 through local efforts led by Valley Interfaith in partnership with local businesses.

Originally designed to be a two-year demonstration project, VIDA is in its 25th year of operation. Through its educational partners VIDA helps residents to graduate from one- and two-year certificate and associate degree programs or to complete the last two years of a bachelor’s degree and secure employment in demand occupations.

Participants receive tuition assistance and support services including career counseling to help break through barriers to educational attainment that historically plague low-income and first-generation higher education students.

“We’re one of the best kept secrets in Brownsville, and really, the whole Rio Grande Valley,” said Father Kevin Collins, pastor of St. Eugene de Mazenod Catholic Church, who serves on the VIDA board of directors. He said a typical VIDA recipient is a single mother working a low-wage job to make ends meet who uses the program to go back to school and improve her life.

VIDA receives funding through grants, from city and county governments and the Greater Brownsville Improvement Corp., Collins said.

Collins noted that VIDA was one of nine programs in the nation chosen for evaluation in a study called Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education, or PACE, on improving the skills of low-wage workers. He said the PACE study credited VIDA counseling with increasing persistence among participants to complete their degrees.

Collins said lower-income community college students often don’t complete their studies “because something gets in the way,” but that with persistence VIDA participants find a way to finish their degrees.

“In VIDA’s program model, career counselors and case managers work closely with each individual student to address barriers that historically plague this demographic pocket and ultimately quash their efforts of continuing education. Financial matters, family issues and time management are but a few of the elements that are worked through in weekly counseling sessions with students,” the UTRGV impact study’s executive summary says.

Other counseling includes soft skills training such as resume writing, interviewing, financial management and study skills.

Among the 501 VIDA participants in 2018-2019, 65 were unemployed, 235 were on public assistance with an average salary of $8,050 and an average household size of two or more, and 10 were underemployed with an average salary of less than $14,706.

With a 90% graduation rate, the program’s 451 graduates were placed at an average starting salary of $41,808, which generates an $18.8 million increase in wages, according to the study. After adjusting 15% for average tax burden, the increase translates into $16 million in disposable income, creates 553 jobs, and $718,789 in state and local taxes for a total economic output of $28.8 million.

According to the study, after completing training, VIDA participants see an incrase of 222% in total output, “They also experience an increase in labor income by 233% and see an increase in total value added to the local economy by 250%,” the executive summary states. The result is a return of $14.74 for every $1 invested.

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