By Terry Wagner, Special Contributor
For nearly 30 years, Alex Hernandez has lived within a one-mile radius of the place he was born. The Dallas native, like many of his friends and neighbors, went right to work after graduating from high school.
But the only jobs he could find at the time were low-paying manual labor. For years, he worked from paycheck to paycheck, never knowing what the next week or month would hold. The uncertainty was hard to handle, he says. He always worried about paying his bills.
But Hernandez wanted more.
“I knew I had more potential than just breaking my back every day for minimum wage,” he says. “I knew there was a lot more out there for me. I just had to find the opportunity to get it.”
Then Hernandez discovered Per Scholas, a nationally recognized program brought to Dallas by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Pathways to Work program. The nonprofit training organization focuses on preparing job seekers for entry-level careers in the IT sector, an industry with a high demand for skilled labor and a shrinking pool of qualified candidates.
“Studies reveal that Dallas is a real focus point for technology companies, for innovation,” says Billy Lane, former Managing Director of Per Scholas. “Right here in Dallas there are over 6,700 open IT jobs. And the workforce to fill those positions needs to be trained.”
Hernandez attended an eight-week tuition-free course that offers hands-on technical skills training, job skills instruction, individualized support for job placement and personal and career advancement. There he identified his specific areas of interest and developed the skills he needed to succeed.
“Our Pathways to Work program is effectively addressing the growing need for a more highly skilled workforce. We’re creating a platform for meaningful, long-lasting and well-paying careers—putting more North Texans on the path to financially secure futures,” says Jennifer Sampson, McDermott-Templeton President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.
Making a Lasting Impact
According to the latest statistics, 27 percent of Dallas residents lack the adequate savings to weather a crisis. And more than 130,000 employed North Texans still fall below the poverty line. The harsh reality is that many local families have little savings, few money management skills and no path to financial self-sufficiency.
United Way is working to change that.
The organization leverages the power of unity, bringing people and resources together to get lasting results in three fundamental areas: education, income and health—or what Sampson calls “the building blocks every family and community needs to thrive.”
“Education, income and health: These are the things everyone needs to reach their full potential,” says Sampson. “And United Way is a unifying force for change because real change only happens when we work together.”
The organization sets enterprising goals—by 2020, they aim to move 250,000 residents out of poverty. And each year, they invest nearly $7 million and countless volunteer hours to do so.
By all accounts, they’re succeeding. As of 2018, there were 250,689 fewer people in poverty than projected.
That progress is the result of the day-in and day-out efforts of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, says Susan Hoff, Chief Strategy, Impact and Operations Officer.
“Every day, we’re mobilizing volunteers, partnering with local companies and helping non-profits and community organizations,” she says. “Together, we’re breaking the cycle of poverty, poor health and lack of education to improve lives right here at home.”
Investing in the Community
Since 2011, United Way has invested more than $41 million in programs that assist low-income adults, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed.
Last year alone, they invested $1.4 million to provide basic needs like food, shelter and emergency assistance. As a result, 12 food pantries distributed more than 6.7 million pounds of food to almost 89,000 people.
The organization invested $2.9 million in technical and training programs that provide the skills and credentials that lead to more lucrative employment. Thanks to these efforts, over 4200 people found new or better jobs.
And they put $2.3 million into programs that help residents get, manage and save more of their hard-earned money. More than 9,000 people received financial services. On average, those participants saved $1,600 and reduced debt by $2,000.
In addition to investing in the best existing local programs, United Way identifies problems that aren’t being addressed and develops innovative solutions for them. Like Per Scholas, which was brought to Dallas with funding from United Way. Or Dollars for College, a matched savings program that encourages kids to aspire to a college degree.
“Whether we’re providing basic needs, developing job skills or improving abilities to budget, reduce debt and raise credit scores, we’re giving at-risk families the resources, tools and know-how to get better jobs, establish savings and hold on to more of what they earn,” Hoff says.
In 2018, United Way invested nearly $7 million to promote financial stability.
$1.4 million to provide food, shelter and emergency assistance. 12 food pantries distributed more than 6.7 million pounds of food to almost 89,000 people.
$2.9 million in technical and training programs that provide skills and credentials. 4200 people found new or better jobs.
$2.3 million in programs that help residents get, manage and keep more of their hard-earned money. 9,000+ people received financial services. On average, they saved $1,600 and reduced debt by $2,000.
Progress on a Personal Level
For Hernandez, the training he received was a game-changer. Today, he works in the IT department of Turner Construction, a company that earns about $10 billion in construction volume every year.
“Looking back on it now, I can only think about the opportunities I’ve been given from Per Scholas and United Way,” says Hernandez. “I wouldn’t be here at Turner if it wasn’t for that opportunity. I wouldn’t have the confidence I have today.”
Hearing that makes Sampson — and everyone at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas — proud.
“When we work collaboratively, we expand opportunities—for companies, for families and for our region’s future,” she says. “With the help of our generous donors, volunteers and supporters, we can make sure that everyone in our community has the skills they need to thrive.”
To help more people get on the path to financial stability, be part of the change. Give, advocate, volunteer or learn more at unitedwaydallas.org.