I wish the San Antonio City Council could have heard her speech.
Amira Dadzie came from Ghana to the United States in 2002 with her husband Steven and two children. She worked for a time as a certified nurse’s aide but had bigger dreams.
So she enrolled in a program to become a registered nurse in 2009. By then, her family had grown by two more children. Her husband then lost his chemical engineering job when his company moved its operations to Mexico, and she didn’t know how she could afford to remain in nurse’s training.
Then she heard of Project Quest, a program that arranges skills training and other help for low-income college students so they can move on to jobs that pay living wages.
In ’09, her mother, still in Ghana, died from brain cancer. Part of her said give up. But, “I kept going because of her,” Dadzie said.
Two years later, her husband died of complications from sickle cell anemia. And this brought on another bout of doubt and hardship. But she told herself, “This should not be the end of what I wanted to pursue in my life.”
On Tuesday, with her beaming children in attendance, Dadzie spoke at Project Quest’s 36th annual graduation ceremony. She graduated in June from San Antonio College’s RN program.
She told a crowd of more than 100 at the ceremony at Our Lady of the Lake University’s chapel auditorium that she couldn’t have done it without Project Quest.
Her path is an inspiration for anyone prone to let life’s hardships overcome aspirations. But what I’m hoping is that it also is inspiration for the City Council to rethink giving the program less than it did in previous budgeting.
Sister Pearl Ceasar, Project Quest’s executive director, told the crowd Tuesday that the agency is in its 20th year, helping nearly 4,000 in that period.
Eighty-two percent of Project Questers complete their training; 90 percent are placed in jobs with an average wage of $18.91 per hour, according to agency literature.
Every dollar spent in this kind of skills development — helping students with tuition, books, transportation costs, rent and child care — translates into $11 returned in wages, taxes and savings to public assistance, Ceasar said.
Project Quest went through a rough patch last year. The city froze reimbursements after finding that it owed more than $840,000 to colleges and bookstores. An audit revealed mismanagement but no fraud.
The city helped the agency, releasing reimbursements and an advance payment. And since then, a task force has prescribed items for the agency and its board of committed community members to fix. All of that is happening.
But I get it. Such an episode might cause some erosion of confidence. And carry-over funds from the current budget might prompt the funding level for next year. But my fear is that this still will bring the agency short of what it had been getting — $2 million from the city.
If anything, it needs more. The proud countenances I saw Tuesday told me this. Seventy-nine graduates were listed in the program. Among them were newly minted dental hygienists, RNs, licensed vocational nurses and welders.
These are people who will pay big dividends on the city’s investment, earning wages and paying taxes.
Sounds win-win to me.
Mayor Julián Castro, in a statement, said he values workplace development and supports Project Quest.
Good. Preschool education, the mayor’s initiative, is about the future. Helping adults in need of skills and jobs has a more immediate reward.