Veronica Montemayor and Isidro Ramos lead different parts of the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA), the Rio Grande’s career guidance, training, and life skills nonprofit whose graduates have gone on to thousands of successful careers since 1995.
The organization tackles unemployment and underemployment issues of the region by creating the ideal circumstances for its residents to learn new skills for in-demand jobs. VIDA’s support services include intensive case management and financial assistance to help its program participants make better lives for themselves and those around them.
But that’s only part of what makes VIDA so special. Its job training component includes pursuing degrees and/or industry recognized credentials in fields of healthcare, STEM, and skilled trades. The program training can be as short as weeks and as long as years, but the inevitable result is individuals who are prepared for roles that desperately need to be filled.
Montemayor, director of finance, has only been at VIDA a year, but her rapport with Ramos, director of workforce and economic development, feels like it goes back years. They joke with each other, and the family-like atmosphere makes it easy to understand the care and consideration they each bring to their jobs. Ramos spent nine years with VIDA early on in his career as director of special projects before returning to the organization in 2019 in his current role.
Ramos currently oversees the manufacturing and skilled trades programs. In his role, he connects with training providers as well as employers to provide the kinds of skills training that can immediately be put into action in the region.
“Everything we do here is for the long-term,” Ramos explains. “Whether I’m working with instructors to organize the curriculum or doing the case management for our participants, it’s about putting our people on the pathway for lifelong learning and career success in their industry of choice.”
The degree to which VIDA invests in the case management of its participants was even a surprise to Montemayor.
“When I went to school, if I had serious questions about continuing or the direction I was going, it was a decision I had to make on my own,” she says. “There was nobody to provide guidance. I’ve learned that the success of VIDA is so closely tied to their case management and the care they take in the people going through our programs.”
Montemayor is responsible for making sure that VIDA continues aiding those in the Rio Grande Valley. The director has to consistently make sure that her organization dots all the i’s when it comes to fulfilling the obligations of the grants it receives—grants like the $3 million it received from the US Department of Labor as part of its nursing expansion program to address the nursing shortage in the area.
VIDA was the only Texas-based organization to secure the grant and just one of twenty-five public-private partnerships in the entire US to be awarded the designation.
But it’s not just nursing. Ramos has been busy creating a curriculum for liquid natural gas jobs that will be coming to the area. That comes on the back of the extensive commercial electrician training he’s helped implement. Ramos has seen so many success stories come through the electrician program that he’s not sure of which student best illustrates the power of VIDA.
“I guess we can talk about Michael,” Ramos finally decides. “Michael has gone through three levels of our training. He’s now buying a nice home. And, to me, that pretty much summarizes everything this program is about. It’s the American Dream. It’s owning a home. And it’s bringing economic development to the community.”
Montemayor sees her own journey as one that could have been so positively impacted by a program like VIDA. After having her daughter at age seventeen, she would slowly pursue her own education, one that would result in her getting her master’s in finance.
“I just know how hard it can be for people who start their families early,” Montemayor explains. “I can relate to so many of the students I see come through here, and I want to be part of their success stories. Some of them don’t even see college as a possibility. But I want them to know that it’s possible.”
Montemayor and Ramos most routinely interact when Ramos is creating a new program.
“It’s about the money, money, money,” Ramos says, laughing. “I’m the one that’s spending it. But I think we’ve been pretty successful together thus far.”
Both speak in their belief of the power of education. Both share their desire to help more people in their own careers. They see success stories play out each and every day at VIDA. They are both actively helping VIDA participants write those stories.
It’s the kind of work that can’t be celebrated enough.