The staff of Homestead’s Mexican American Council (MAC) take time occasionally to sit down together for an informal lunch. “You can’t find a better group of young people than here,” Cip Garza, MAC co-founder, said in looking around the table. “They’re motivated, confident, and have a tremendous positive attitude.”
Maria, his wife and partner in decades of community involvement, has lived in Homestead since 1972 and watched many changes take place. “Poverty has an ugly face. If we invest in them [our youth] and train them, they give back to the community.”
This guiding principle is seen on their website as, “MAC’s main goal is to advance the living standards of farmworker youth by breaking the cycle of poverty through education, the arts, and civic engagement. MAC is a well-respected advocate of community issues and an agent of positive change for promoting cultural and civic engagement with a record of over 30 years of service in the community.”
With next generation son, Eddie Garza, stepping into an official leadership position, he and Marilu Villa, MAC Program Manager, are enthused about myriad activities on the academic side. Among them, the College and Career Prep (CCP), offers a range of services to students at Homestead High School, South Dade High School, and Robert Morgan Educational Center. “It focuses on preparing high school students for college (August-December) and provides job training (January-May) to better prepare them as college students. Through CCP, participants have the opportunity to participate in social-emotional workshops, summer internships, SAT/ACT courses, and career exploration in a mentorship after-school setting.”
There are also 2-year, 4- year, and monetary scholarships valued between $500-$2,000. Scholarships are awarded based on merit and need. “The College Club is a stand-alone program open to all college students with a focus on MAC Scholars.
Financial literacy is a component of the College Club.”
The importance of financial literacy has taken on a new dimension due to MAC’s affiliation with UnidosUS, a major national advocacy group. Chicago and Los Angeles were the type of cities competing to be among the few selected for the pilot of a sought-after Financial Empowerment Project.
Thanks to MAC, Homestead is one of less than ten cities chosen. Officially, “UnidosUS Financial Empowerment Network in partnership with the Financial Clinic are conducting a pilot program that seeks to integrate financial capability counseling and strategies into a variety of social service programs helping to educated and coach financially insecure communities. Through this partnership UnidosUS Affiliates will provide one of two levels of financial
capability service. Affiliates who engage at one level (called Tier 1) will embed financial capability into their existing programs and provide an
extensive amount of light-touch services that make sense given the context of the program. Affiliates who engage at the second level (called Tier 2) will provide individualized, ongoing financial coaching services over the phone or virtually to those clients who started working with a Tier 1 Affiliate and want a deeper engagement in financial capability services.”
In day-to-day language the MAC College Club students, who are the first participants, received financial coaching intended to carry them well beyond the basics. All are enrolled at Miami-Dade College or Florida International University (FIU). “We work closely with our
students in helping them obtain scholarships,” Garza explained. “Because of this and choosing to attend nearby Florida schools as well as often working, or having worked, many of the students are not facing intense college debt and may have money they can put to use.”
Villa pointed out that most want to provide supplemental income to their families. While the families would benefit short-term, proper investment, especially with an eye toward an upward career path, is more likely to provide greater long-term security. Whether academic, business, or entrepreneurial, understanding how finance works can make a lifetime difference. Much of the project is tied to technology as the credentialed experts in various fields communicate through webinars and other remote means in order to reach students from coast-to-coast.
Garza used the phrase of being, “On the Corner of Ready and Go,” to acknowledge how they were selected by UnidosUS. “We have become a talent factory. Our whole plan is to keep these talented young people in Homestead and this area.”
Villa pointed out the project will be offered community-wide. Success of the students who complete the program will be measured and shared with workshops and other tools. "Based on data collected during the past year, all students have reached their goals of establishing credit, creating savings, and erasing or minimizing debt." She can be reached at email@example.com or (786) 243 2328; Fax (786) 504-3953; or visit 151 NW 11 St, Suite E400, Homestead.
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