In 2005, I joined the SER-Jobs for Progress Inc. board of directors. Although aware of SER, as a board member, I learned much more about its rich history.

SER was incorporated on May 18, 1970, by five members of the Santa Fe LULAC Council #33. The effort was part of President John F. Kennedy’s call to action and also to ensure that people of the Southwest had equal access to education, employment and training services.

The original SER Board consisted of Santa Fe business people who also started the first Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Santa Fe. Through their leadership, SER developed local partnerships with business and government to train people for in-demand jobs.

SER’s success continued and resulted in a partnership with Santa Fe Public Schools in 1988 to address the district’s high school dropout rate. The program, Project Get Ahead, quickly demonstrated improvement in student academic achievement and a reduction in the dropout rate. This program received the 1992 JTPA Presidential Award as the nation’s outstanding job training program.

Project Get Ahead grew to partner with 24 other school districts in New Mexico through funding support from the New Mexico Legislature. In 1993, SER received funding for the Santa Fe Youth Year-Round Training Demonstration project. This program allowed SER and the district to increase services to at-risk students in middle and high schools. The model was used to create the SER/SFPS Career Academy, the district’s alternative high school, jointly managed by SER and the public schools.

SER reinvented itself in 1998 and implemented Project SST, a new initiative to serve people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in Santa Fe, Taos and Mora. In 2003, SER was funded to serve adults, dislocated workers and youth in the 10 counties of Northern New Mexico.

This program brought SER into the workforce development arena and collaboration with higher education, public education, vocational rehabilitation, the Wagner-Peyser jobs act and economic development, among other umbrellas. SER now operated under the branding of the New Mexico Workforce Connection.

Today, SER continues as the workforce contractor in the northern and central regions of New Mexico. This growth has led people in Santa Fe to believe that SER no longer exists. This is far from the truth, as SER serves thousands of new customers and manages significant training funds.

Today, our board has decided to focus on new initiatives and prepare for the next 50 years of SER’s lifeline. Our newest project is a partnership between Cisco Systems Inc. and SER to train youth and adults to become certified in Cisco networking and cybersecurity, two occupations in high demand throughout the country. Much credit goes to Alex Martinez, executive director, and the staff for the program’s continued success.

On Monday, SER will reach a milestone — 50 years of existence. Not many nonprofit corporations can make this claim, so it is important to recognize SER’s great accomplishments, while giving thanks to all the people who have served on its board of directors and recognizing the incredible talent SER has attracted. Here’s to 50 more years of progress.

Mary Chavez is the board chairwoman, SER-Jobs for Progress, in Santa Fe.

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