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A Beacon of Hope for those in Need: OCC Sits Down with Edu-Futuro’s Jorge E. Figueredo

October 12, 2021

OCC seeks to support organizations who help people at risk through employee participation and financial donations. Since 2019, OCC has supported Edu-Futuro in their mission to empower immigrant and underserved youth and families through mentorship, education, leadership development and parent engagement.

OCC recently spoke with Edu-Futuro’s Executive Director, Jorge E. Figueredo, to hear firsthand how the organization is helping immigrant and Latino families succeed and learn how the organization has had to adapt to confront the challenges associated with Covid-19.

Can you tell us a little bit about Edu-Futuro?

Continuing the original vision of our founders, the work of Edu-Futuro is now focused on education as a critical catalyst for positive, permanent change in immigrant and Latino families. Our Emerging Leaders Program for youth, as well as our Parent Empowerment Services, Case Management Services, and Workforce Development Services, are all designed to provide students and parents with bilingual, bicultural programs that impact the most important aspects of their daily lives.

Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty through a two-generation programmatic approach that allows us to impact parents and children simultaneously, creating a family dynamic in which parents are inspired by the academic advancement of their children, and in turn, youth are motivated and supported by the economic progress of their mothers and fathers.

The Challenges of Covid-19

From what you’ve seen, how has Covid-19 impacted immigrant and Latino families?

From the beginning of the crisis, the Latino community has accounted for the largest number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Northern Virginia, as well as throughout the Washington metropolitan area. 

"More than 80% of the families served by Edu-Futuro reported that a parent had lost their job right after the COVID-19 outbreak, and that they were not certain how they would be able to pay the rent the following month."

Unfortunately, this unprecedented emergency never received the amount of attention or funding from local government agencies or philanthropic organizations required to meet the specific needs of immigrant families, who were not only bearing the greatest burdens of the pandemic, but were also disproportionately represented in the “essential workforce” that maintained our hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, and many other critical institutions. As a result, there was a significant loss of jobs and income for many immigrant and Latino workers.

For example, more than 80% of the families served by Edu-Futuro reported that a parent had lost their job right after the COVID-19 outbreak, and that they were not certain how they would be able to pay the rent the following month. Our families were already living paycheck-to-paycheck before the crisis, and now they had to not only search for secure and stable employment, but also find ways to pay rent and make ends meet on a day-to-day basis.

Given Edu Futuro’s focus on education, how did the pandemic impact students in particular?

Distance learning served to expose -- as well as worsen -- the significant achievement gaps that exist for immigrant students. The students from many of the immigrant and Latino families we support did not have adequate internet access or computer technology in the home; they were basically on their own because their parents had little knowledge or experience with the process of connecting to digital platforms.

Just imagine how many households in the immigrant community had multiple children trying to connect to their classrooms at the same time. Even when they were able to connect to their classes, how could they focus and learn when two or three other children were doing the same thing all in a one-bedroom apartment? The resources deployed by local school systems to respond to these problems were extremely limited and did not significantly serve to mitigate the educational regression experienced by the majority of immigrant and Latino students this past year.

How did you adapt to confront these new challenges brought on by the pandemic?

“I am very proud to report that we responded to the extraordinary needs of our families by becoming one of the largest providers of direct financial aid to immigrant families in the Washington region.”

The pandemic affected every aspect of Edu-Futuro’s work. Expected outcomes had to be adjusted nearly overnight, and we had to move quickly to redeploy staff and resources to meet the emergency needs of our beneficiaries. Originally, all our youth and parent programs were conducted in-person at Arlington, Fairfax, and Alexandria schools, and other community facilities. Once these were closed by the pandemic, Edu-Futuro had to rapidly adjust to remote, online delivery. Starting in April 2020, just four weeks after the initial COVID-19 outbreak, Edu-Futuro transitioned nearly all of our parent and youth programs to online delivery, allowing us to continue our academic enrichment and leadership development programs for middle school and high school students across Northern Virginia, as well as our family support, parent engagement, and workforce development services in Arlington and Fairfax counties.

I am very proud to report that we responded to the extraordinary needs of our families by becoming one of the largest providers of direct financial aid to immigrant families in the Washington region, offering intensive case management services to more than 1,200 struggling families, and disbursing over $800,000 from an Emergency Assistance Fund that we established to cover rent, food, utilities, and other basic necessities. In total, Edu-Futuro served 3,268 clients between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, shattering our previous record number of beneficiaries by 61.8%.

The Importance of Education and Cultural Understanding

Why do you feel education is so important, in particular for first- or second-generation immigrants?

In one of the most important accomplishments in the history of our organization, Edu-Futuro became one of only 12 AmeriCorps lead agencies in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2020, allowing us to more than triple the number of AmeriCorps members on our staff, from five to 17.

“The life-changing result of ELP II expansion was that our 83 Edu-Futuro students were not only accepted into a postsecondary institution, but these outstanding youths were offered $5,557,892 in scholarships and financial aid for their first year of college, and a remarkable $21,468,490 in four-year renewable scholarships and financial aid.”

More importantly, the additional organizational capacity enabled Edu-Futuro to nearly double the number of students participating in our flagship program for high school seniors, called ELP (Emerging Leaders Program) II that involves one on one mentoring, from approximately 45 youth in past years, to 83 in FY21.

The life-changing result of ELP II expansion was that our 83 Edu-Futuro students were not only accepted into a postsecondary institution, but these outstanding youths were offered $5,557,892 in scholarships and financial aid for their first year of college, and a remarkable $21,468,490 in four-year renewable scholarships and financial aid.

These extraordinary outcomes broke our previous records for first year and four year financial aid totals by 124% and 287%, respectively. This is exactly what Edu-Futuro means when we state that the goal of our youth and parent programs is to break the cycle of poverty in one generation.

Just imagine what would happen to households that, today, are earning less than $30,000 per year when a son or daughter comes back from college and can begin earning $50,000, or like one of our ELP graduates who recently graduated from Viginia Tech, and now is working as an Engineer now making some $90,000 per year. This year, I am very proud to report that our ELP students were accepted into such institutions as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown, Duke, George Mason, George Washington, James Madison, and Marymount.

How important is knowledge of the language and culture to the work you do?

As a social service agency working on the front lines of the pandemic, Edu-Futuro can attest to the vital importance of providing bilingual, bicultural services to the immigrant community. Very early on in the crisis, we realized that we had to create our own Emergency Assistance Fund to cover rent, food, and utilities because far too many immigrant households were falling through the cracks in our local safety net. Based on our experience, one of the main reasons for this critical disconnect was that existing service providers did not have enough bilingual staff members or shared the cultural experiences needed to understand how to handle many of the common challenges that immigrant families face, such as a family member who has an unresolved legal status, or is employed in the informal economy, or a family that is subletting without an official lease agreement.

Over and over again, we found that families that were eligible for assistance did not receive the emergency services they needed because case workers in other nonprofit organizations did not speak their language or understand how to find a solution to their problems. As a result, a significant number of immigrant families quietly gave up on their requests for crucial emergency assistance from these organizations during the crisis.

How was Edu-Futuro uniquely positioned to help?

No other community-based organization in Northern Virginia provides the comprehensive bilingual services offered by Edu-Futuro. We have a distinct advantage in understanding the unique needs and complex dynamics of the families we serve because 93% of our staff is fully bilingual, and 80% are immigrants or the children of immigrants. We know how to work with immigrant families who require understanding, time, attention, and patience because we have lived their experiences.

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Learn more about Edu-Futuro’s positive impact and how to donate at edu-futuro.org.

The responses provided in this article are the statements and opinions of Jorge E. Figueredo and not those of OCC

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