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WNC Business

MTCC, ICC and Centro Unido Latino Americano receive NCCCS Distinguished Partners in Excellence Award

Feb 08, 2023 10:01AM ● By WNC Business
MARION - McDowell Technical Community College proudly announced that Centro Unido Latino Americano, in partnership with the college and Isothermal Community College, has been awarded the 2023 NC Community College System Distinguished Partners in Excellence Award. This award was created by the State Board of Community Colleges in 2006 to recognize exemplary employers, businesses or industry groups who have demonstrated 'decisive involvement' in the professional development of their employees or the development of North Carolina’s workforce through its partnership efforts with one or more of the state’s 58 community colleges.

Historically, the Distinguished Partners in Excellence Award has been given to college’s who have partnered with major industry leaders like GE Aviation, Wake Med, Bank of America, and UNC Healthcare. This year’s award recognizes a significant partnership between McDowell Tech, Isothermal and CULA which began in the fall of 2021 as a regional workforce development partnership in conjunction with a $1.498 million federal Department of Labor Workforce Opportunities in Rural Communities grant. The primary goal of the partnership was, and continues to be, addressing regional labor shortages in McDowell, Rutherford, and Polk counties.

“Successful partnerships with organizations like CULA help us better serve students who were historically underserved and build regional capacity to meet local and regional workforce development needs,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “Margarita and the entire team at CULA have been a blessing to our community,” he said, referring to Margarita Ramirez, CULA’s Executive Director.

“This very deliberate partnership is starting to yield valuable benefits in our region,” said Dr. Margaret Annunziata, Isothermal’s president. “We are committed to serving all members of our communities and part of that is connecting each person with the opportunity that is right for them and that, ultimately, will improve life through learning.  Providing a pathway to a rewarding career that includes a workforce credential with labor market value allows our community members to maximize their earning potential while meeting the need for a skilled workforce across Western NC.”

Centro Unido Latino Americano is a non-profit organization serving the Latino community in the Foothills region of North Carolina. They specialize in connecting members of the Hispanic and Latino communities with resources and services offered by a variety of local agencies, including training and education provided by local community colleges.

As part of the grant initiative, known as Foothills Forward, CULA hired a Latino Workforce Coordinator to recruit individuals to participate in career training opportunities, English Language Acquisition classes, Civics education, and high school equivalency programs. High-demand careers, work-based learning, and apprenticeship opportunities are a particular focus for the coordinator, as the goal of the Foothills Forward Initiative is to engage over
900 participants in this type of training over three years, with at least 100 coming from the Latino community. As students complete their classes and short-term training, the Workforce Coordinator also serves as a conduit between graduates and the employer community, assisting them in securing local and regional jobs with family-sustaining wages. To better assist students and graduates, a member of the CULA staff maintains regular office hours at both McDowell Tech and Isothermal.

In 2021, the first full year of the grant cycle, McDowell Tech ran two successful short-term training academies in Construction Trades with more than half of the participants coming from the Hispanic community. Subsequent short-term academies in Plumbing, Electrical, and HVAC trades had similar enrollments. Students in the college’s Construction Trades Academies are also engaged in paid, work-based learning opportunities funded and operated by Gateway Wellness Foundation which is constructing affordable housing in the Foothills Region. Enrollment in the McDowell Tech’s Career and College Readiness program, specifically the Integrated English Language and Civic Education program, which operates in conjunction with the colleges Training Academies, was up significantly in the fall of 2022.

Danna Stansbury, Executive Director of Foothills Regional Commission, endorsed CULA and the two colleges for the Distinguished Partners in Excellence Award. “Through initiatives and partnerships such as CULA, underserved residents are being connected with necessary education and high–demand training opportunities, expanded work-based learning, and apprenticeship opportunities, support services, and financial assistance. We feel our mission, as well as all partnering organizations, is being met through this exciting initiative,” she said.

“Our mission is to build bridges between communities and access to essential resources and socio-economic support,” said Margarita Ramirez, CULA’s Executive Director. “Centro Unido Latino Americano acknowledges the gap between educational institutions and LatinX/immigrant families. Through this collaboration, we are bringing the assets of all Latino communities to the table and are allowing them to have a better socio-economic outcome.”

“This kind of partnership builds bridges between communities and establishes a more equitable approach to providing services to our diverse communities and ensures that we continue to promote effective initiative building with entities that align with our vision and mission,” she said.

“We know that the unemployment rate for members of the Latino community in the Foothills Region is three times higher than the average statewide unemployment rate for all workers,” said Merritt, the MTCC President. “Similarly, state educational attainment rates for residents who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, and others persons of color are well below that of white and Asian residents. Our collaboration with CULA is successfully working to close both the skills gap and educational attainment gaps in these historically-underserved populations. More and more students are becoming credentialed to enter the workforce, which ultimately benefits the Foothills regional economy. While this award is exciting news for our colleges and our region, ultimately, the benefits that are accruing to our friends and neighbors in these underserved communities gives us the highest satisfaction of all.”

Source: McDowell Technical Community College