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Patriotic Article
Noble Efforts
By Thomas D. Segel

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Two Educators Labor To Uplift The Homeless and Unemployed
(May 17, 2010)

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Head Loaves and Fishes educator Tommy Martinez (left) goes through the new class schedule with Executive Director Bill Reagan, as assistant Elsa Almendarez looks on.
Head Loaves and Fishes educator Tommy Martinez (left) goes through the new class schedule with Executive Director Bill Reagan, as assistant Elsa Almendarez looks on.
 Harlingen, Texas, May 13, 2010 -- Tommy Martinez and Elsa Almendarez have a daunting mission to accomplish. They are educators who operate a long established training program at Loaves and Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. This multi-service feeding and shelter organization has a training and work placement center that is steadily providing a means for the unskilled, the underemployed and the unemployed to qualify for available work or better positions.

Loaves and Fishes is a non-profit corporation sponsored by the Ministerial Alliance of Harlingen, Texas. With its primary funding coming from churches, individuals and foundations, it serves as a shining example of how neighbors should be helping neighbors in today's depressed economy. Last year alone, the shelter provided more than 10, 800 bed nights for men, women and children. At the same time it served 112,972 hot meals to the hungry. Those individuals seeking help from the shelter are
often homeless wanderers, but they are also individuals or families who come from cities and towns across this region of Deep South Texas.
While the basic programs of Loaves and Fishes are providing food and shelter, its Training Center and Job Placement Services are busy attempting to prepare homeless people and the unemployed to handle their personal affairs or enter the work force.

Senior Educator Tommy Martinez has a unique student body. Those who come to him for training are unemployed or underemployed due to a lack of education and/or needed job skills. To even get an interview for most available positions applicants must demonstrate they have educational skills of at least a high school level. Toward such an objective both Tommy and Elsa teach the multiple subjects that these applicants will find on the General Educational Development Test (GED).
Educator Tommy Martinez looks over a computer lesson in advance of a class.  All of his students receive personal instruction and work at their own speed.  Each year he trains more than 125 people in the use of computer programs and helps almost 200 more students qualify to pass their GED.
Educator Tommy Martinez looks over a computer lesson in advance of a class. All of his students receive personal instruction and work at their own speed. Each year he trains more than 125 people in the use of computer programs and helps almost 200 more students qualify to pass their GED.
 During 2009 a total of 191 were taught the educational skills that would allow them to pass this important test. So far this year, almost another 50 people have gone through the program. The only hurdle many of them must overcome is the lack of money to take the GED tests. Most do not have the $95 fee required by the local technical college. Though the Loaves and Fishes organization provides all of the training and classroom study free, there has been no fund established to cover the test fees.

“We do have individuals send in donations from time to time”, says Tommy Martinez, “but not enough to cover all of our good students wishing to receive that GED Certificate. It would be great to have some foundation or business adopt this program and provide more test money.”

Clients arriving at the Training Center with computer skills are few in number. Because being computer literate is now a work requirement for most positions, training in several of the more common business programs is conducted on a regular basis.
Microsoft Word and Excel are the programs most in demand. Classes are scheduled during the morning hours, afternoons and at night to allow training time to fit just about every person's schedule. The classes meet two days a weeks and are three hours in length.
Other training services being offered are in Family Budgeting, which is particularly important for those low-income families who find it difficult to make ends meet every month. There is even a course of Home Buyer Training that is given on a regular basis for those unfamiliar with the complexities of real estate purchasing.

Tommy Martinez watches over these training programs and also the small job placement center that is operated by Loaves and Fishes. Close to 6,000 various services ranging from resume preparation to providing listings of available positions are utilized within the placement program during the span of one year.
Educator Elsa Allmendarez (right) talks a student through a GED lesson at the Loaves and Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley training center.
Educator Elsa Allmendarez (right) talks a student through a GED lesson at the Loaves and Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley training center.
 During the first four months of 2010 there were 190 new clients who came to the job placement service seeking employment. Sadly, in this economic downturn, only 31 of them were hired. Both Elsa and Tommy agree that employers are happy with the applicants they have been sent for interviews.

“For some who want new employees, we are the first organization contacted. A number of people who have hired our clients are pleased enough that they come back to us repeatedly, when they are looking for additional help”, says Martinez.

There are always those who will think small outreach programs such as these are unimportant in today's crowded and complex society. It is true the Loaves and Fishes programs are small in the number of people served. However, they are a worthy example of what communities can do for themselves instead of
always looking to the government for assistance.

Article and photos by Thomas D. Segel
Tom@thomasdsegel.com
www.thomasdsegel.com

Copyright 2010

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