Jose Asencio made his living at an air conditioner repair shop, learning on the job and working his way up. But when company had a change of ownership and modified its policies, requiring all technicians to have a high school diploma or a GED, Asencio lost his job — he had neither.
Already in his 60s, he heard about the program at the RGV Literacy Center, enrolled, and eventually received his GED certification.
“He later enrolled at (South Texas College) to continue in AC-related courses,” said Diana Garza-Farias, the executive director of the center. “He eventually got back to work as a technician at a better pay rate and continued to work at the type of job that he loved.”
The RGV Literacy Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, community-based organization that offers adult education classes to people who need help achieving their educational and career goals. It was founded in 2006, and its main office is located at the Meadow Heights Pharr Housing Authority.
Some of the classes offered to adults with low and moderate incomes include English as a Second Language at five different levels, GED, basic computer, writing success, and U.S. citizenship classes. The organization has 21 locations in nine cities throughout Hidalgo County, including places like The Salvation Army, Amigos del Valle, the Progreso Community Center, several libraries and churches, and housing projects that have educational buildings. The RGV Literacy Center also has one location in Cameron County at the Family and Community Engagement Center in Rio Hondo.
The center provides teachers to conduct the lessons. At this time, due to the pandemic, all classes are held online via Zoom. Teachers also use Google Classroom and other creative ways to make an impact.
“Our main goal of the RGV Literacy Center is for students to get their GED, get a career path, and motivate and help them get into college,” Garza-Farias said.
When students register and come into the classes, they form a team, bond, and become a family.
“I think the major impact that it’s made has been to give them a boost to their self-esteem,” Garza-Farias said.
The RGV Literacy Center works with adults of all ages, and some of them come in with very low self-esteem and need guidance to help them complete their education and try to get ahead. Participants have access to economic opportunities, as well as volunteer work in the community, such as the Food Bank.
The center has also received lots of support from the community and works in partnership with several entities, including Workforce Solutions, Barnes & Noble, Engagement Zone at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and South Texas College.
“We do have a small scholarship which we give to one or two of our GED students every year, and it was started by one of our former board members, Dulce Hernandez Phillips, and it is still going,” Garza-Farias said. “This year the recipient of the scholarship was Chelsey Germain.”
Germain is a mother of four who had been unable to complete school due to unfortunate events in her life. When she heard about the program at the literacy center, she enrolled and was able to obtain her GED. Germain then enrolled in fall semester classes at STC and has been hired to work part-time as the data clerk at the center. She says her children have been very happy for her and told her, “You can do it, Mommy!” She is very thankful for Garza-Farias and Monica Delgado, the GED instructor, for their help and for making a difference in many people’s lives.
There are many more success stories stemming from the literacy center’s presence in the community.
Jazzmin Del Angel had a master’s degree and a successful career in urban development in Mexico. When H-E-B contacted her, asking her to recommend new store locations in Reynosa, she realized that learning English could not only help her communicate better with her new contractors, but also greatly expand her career. In 2011, she and her husband decided to start a new life in Pharr. Del Angel began English classes at the Rio Grande Valley Literacy Center and, with the help of her instructors, came to view her new world in a different way. Learning English helped her understand municipal laws critical to her profession.
“After two years of English classes, she was hired part-time, and she began to teach GED preparation courses at the literacy center,” Garza-Farias said. “With a second career in education on the horizon — she has also acquired certification as a substitute teacher — Jazzmin decided to put a stamp on her residency in Pharr. In 2017, she became a U.S. citizen. Currently, she finds time to teach Citizenship Preparation Class and Spanish as a Second Language part-time. She also is a part-time Staff Recruitment Officer at the RGV Literacy Center and is living her dream of more opportunity.”
There are many students whose goal was to start a business or complete their GED and get a job to help their families. Some of them continue to stay in touch via the RGV Literacy Center’s Facebook page and will report on their progress.
The RGV Literacy Center also works in collaboration with Hidalgo County Precincts 1-4 to help adults who need to attain their GED as well as obtain community hours. They are sent to the center to help improve their chances of success and become a contributing member of the community. The center has enrolled over 200 students during the COVID pandemic.