National and local leaders gathered on Wednesday morning to celebrate the opening of Alamo Colleges’ Eastside Education and Training Center (EETC). The opening of the center represents years of effort and what Mayor Ivy Taylor called a “milestone” of collective impact on the Eastside.
“I really believe this is going to be a catalyst,” Taylor said.
EETC – pronounced like “Etsy” – will be located in the former Pfeiffer Academy Elementary School at 4551 Dietrich Rd.
The new center will be a one-stop shop for community members to access job training, certification pathways, and degree completion. The 50,000 sq. ft. facility will be directed by Alamo College’s Belkiss Rodriguez. Child care and case management will be provided through the center’s myriad of partners including Goodwill and Communities in Schools, among others.
“I heard the list of partners involved, and it’s mind-blowing,” Alamo College board member Denver McClendon said.
McClendon praised the collective impact initiative, but noted “how many egos had to be set aside to get something done.”
This is the second community-based center in the Alamo Colleges district. The first center, the Westside Education and Training Center (WETC) has been in operation for 10 years. In that time it has helped more than 1,200 members of the Westside community connect to the training and job opportunities they need for a brighter future.
“This is not our first dance,” McClendon said.
The district plans to open similar centers on the Southside and Northside. The idea behind the centers is to bring education to communities where access presents a significant hurdle to employment and education.
“Being deep in the communities we serve is so critical for access,” Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie said.
EETC will be within the Eastside Promise Zone. Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) highlighted the center’s role in fulfilling the “promise” of the Promise Zone: With the increased access to education will come increase access to the jobs that follow.
Accenture will partner with the center with the specific focus of decreasing youth unemployment and increasing the connection to the growing information technologies sector. Currently the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 2.6 million unemployed people ages 16-24 in the country. Accenture projects that in 2018, 2.4 million tech jobs will go unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants.
“Many of the people we have hired do not have a four-year degree,"Accenture managing director Ali Bokhari said. "Many of the people we have hired do not have a background in tech.”
What their hires do have, Bokhari explained, is the attitude, altitude, and passion for technology. Community resources like EETC help them achieve the qualifications they need to put that passion to work in a field with opportunity for advancement.
“We are committed to San Antonio,” Bokhari said.
U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) commended the efforts for their interruption of the poverty cycle. He pledged his support to seeing the “dollars continue to flow” to the center as a pathway to the middle class for Eastside parents and their children. Many times when students grow up around chronic unemployment, the skills they learn have less to do with gaining and keeping a job, and more to do with survival along the margins. Parents who find themselves perpetuating that cycle often want better for their children.
“Many of these parents want to do that, but there are barriers in their way,” Doggett said.
The change that starts at home is a major theme for Eastside residents.
The City invested $45 million in 2012 bond monies, with $48 million more potentially on the way with the 2017 bond, said Assistant City Manager Lori Houston. This is in addition to private investment as well. Still, historically disenfranchised groups do not always see the benefits in their own lives.
“If nothing changes for people in their household, they will say nothing has changed,” Mayor Taylor said.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) invested $1.5 million in the center, formerly Pfeiffer Elementary School, which closed its doors in 2014. That same year, the EDA made a $500,000 grant to San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE) to identify top priorities for economic growth in the area. SAGE pinpointed workforce development as the greatest need in the community. Now the doors of the former elementary school will re-open to the community in hopes of educating the workforce of tomorrow.
The EDA made its $1.5 million grant to the Alamo Colleges in partnership with the City of San Antonio and San Antonio ISD. EDA Austin Regional Office Director Jorge Ayala expressed his pleasure at being one of the many partners, but acknowledged that the real work was just beginning.
“The hard work begins in your community,” Ayala said.