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Empowerment project aimed at breaking cycle of helplessness

March 01, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — A new program aimed at giving low-income residents here the necessary English and entrepreneurial skills and contacts needed to start a small business is set to get under way in a few weeks.

San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus' division of continuing education, through a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is launching the Calexico Empowerment Project on March 16.

Program Manager and SDSU-IV continuing education Director Suzanna Fuentes-Ferreiro said the Calexico Empowerment Project is intended to break the cycle of helplessness felt by those wanting to start a business of their own.

She said the mindset of many is "businesses are for somebody else to start. People say, ‘How can I start a business? I don't have the money. I don't have the knowledge. I don't have the contacts.'

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"This (program) can give all of that," she said.

With the exception of the funding needed to start a business, the program will be comprised of a series of classes and workshops. The emphasis will be on instructing qualifying low-income participants to learn English.

However, within those English classes will be business education components that teach not only vital entrepreneurial skills but how to go about finding micro-loans.

Furthermore, Fuentes-Ferreiro said the program is in the process of building partnerships with local agencies that can provide the grants or loans needed to start a business.

Because those partnerships are still being forged, she declined to identify any specific agencies.

"That's what's important, too, about this project — making partnerships and becoming a force in the community," Fuentes-Ferreiro said.

There is one additional component to the Calexico Empowerment Program, she added.

Through HUD, there is the necessary funding to reach at-risk youth in Calexico by teaching entrepreneurial skills.

The hope is, Fuentes-Ferreiro said, that those low-income residents participating in the program may have teen-agers at home who could also participate, turning any potential business venture into a family affair.

She said of the program: "What happens is many times we train people for jobs and unfortunately there are no jobs out there. A lot of people have skills or know of someone who has skills. Why not use those skills?" in establishing a small business.

The Calexico Housing Authority has been assisting SDSU-IV in informing residents in its housing projects about the program. Additionally, Fuentes-Ferreiro said her staff has been distributing flyers to inform Calexico residents.

She added those interested in participating in the program can call program coordinator Javier Gonzalez at 768-5550.

The HUD grant, received by SDSU-IV in November, will enable the program to be free to participants.

HUD officials will be in Calexico at 2:30 today at the SDSU-IV library to meet with SDSU-IV Dean Khosrow Fatemi about the program.

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro can be reached at 337-3453.

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