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Business & Economy Commentary

Opinion: How Project ARRIBA has improved the lives of many El Pasoans

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By Roman Ortiz
Roman Ortiz

Project ARRIBA came to fruition in 1998 to increase the educational attainment levels for an underemployed population living along the Borderplex region.

Twenty-two years later, our results have positively affected the quality of life and economic development of the El Paso economy. 

Project ARRIBA is a public 501(c)3 nonprofit community-based organization.  We work to bridge the skills gap which exists between area employers and an aspiring workforce that lacks the opportunities needed to develop their talents. 

History of Project ARRIBA

In the mid to late 1990s, the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization or EPISO and later Border Interfaith recognized the regional need for a quality job training program and set about the task of seeking funding from the state of Texas and local government. Early on, the City and County of El Paso responded, in addition to the Texas Workforce Commission – Wagner Peyser Fund.

These entities along with other federal and private funding and our training provider partners like the El Paso Community College, the University of Texas at El Paso, and as of 2019, Texas Tech University Health Science Center of El Paso, remain essential to the success of Project ARRIBA today.

Project ARRIBA is modeled after the successful employment and training initiative Project QUESTin San Antonio, which was founded in 1992. Here in El Paso, founding directors critical to our success included Rev. Ed Roden-Lucero, Jim R. Phillips, Rev. James Hall, Gary Hedrick, Rev. Ken Ducre, Richard Fleager, and Rev. Pablo Matta, who serve emeritus positions on the board of directors. 

Other notable founding directors were Alfonso Martinez-Fonts, Jr., Nathan Christian, Bob Snow and Les Parker.

Creating essential workers

Project ARRIBA has graduated almost 1,600 El Pasoans into demand occupations here in the Borderplex, primarily in essential jobs like nursing, and health care.  We have an innovative and award-winning approach to workforce development that is employer driven, regionally focused and participant centric.  

Current job placed graduates are earning over $49,000 a year and are empowered with the education and skills needed to obtain quality job opportunities with greater economic mobility that moves them and their families out of poverty and into the middle class.

Project ARRIBA’s mission is to assist economically disadvantaged individuals in gaining the education and job skills needed for demand occupations that pay a family-sustaining, living wage in El Paso. 

Our workforce development model mitigates socioeconomic barriers for at-risk and vulnerable adults.  We provide the educational, financial, and social support systems to help people access college and persist unto completion to a post-secondary degree which leads to job placement in a demand occupation. This is done with our nationally recognized case management, which uses a holistic form of supportive services to remove barriers from training and increase the probability of success.

Impact

During the last two decades, Project ARRIBA has connected thousands of individuals to post-secondary success and job placement in our great region.  This support promotes job training achievement and increases academic graduation rates in a border region where only 32% of the population have a degree beyond high school. 

Rev. Ed Roden-Lucero, right, and other board members celebrated the graduation of the Project ARRIBA class in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Project ARRIBA)

Approximately 49% of the population with a high school diploma or less lives in poverty.  Currently, El Paso has a 20% poverty rate and more specifically, roughly 45% of head of household women with children live at or below the poverty guideline.

This is why Project ARRIBA exists.   Our focus is to move people into the middle class.  We add value to our training provider partners who need to retain at-risk students.  We add value to our local employers who desperately need skilled workers.  

Over the years our model proves that we have added value to the Paso Del Norte region.  Our graduates enter jobs at almost twice the individual medium income and over 93% stay in El Paso long-term.   

While the individual success stories are tremendous, it is the economic impact Project ARRIBA has had on this region that makes it a worthwhile program in which to invest. Per a recent study, Project ARRIBA has added about $893.3 million in value to the El Paso economy in the form of future earnings of program graduates.

Moreover, Project ARRIBA has supported about $31.7 million in total investment over the life of the program, which implies a cumulative benefit to cost ratio of $28 for every $1 invested (“The Economic Impact of Project ARRIBA on El Paso County, Texas” prepared by the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness, May 2021).

This workforce development model has proven to be an effective tool in the job training system for El Paso and has further been successfully replicated across Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, and Iowa. 

Project ARRIBA is currently seeking applicants for enrollment, if you or someone you know wants to go back to school and obtain a quality job, please call us at 915-843-4055 or online at projectarriba.org under forms look for the “Pre-Application.”

Roman Ortiz is CEO of Project ARRIBA.Cover photo: Project ARRIBA participants who graduated with bachelors of science degrees in nursing in 2019

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