-by Kathleen Nelson
The sacrifices made by farmworkers around the country every day deserve our thanks and support. AFOP’s part in the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) is our way of returning the favor by helping organizations assess the strengths and skills of individuals in this vital field, and provide education and training so that they can build a better life – their way.
Maria Casillas is a single mother, who at age 49 had been a seasonal worker in the fields for most of her life. She lived in poverty and struggled to make ends meet while raising her children on a meager salary. Maria was young herself when she had children and made the difficult choice to sacrifice her own education in order to provide for her family, leaving school in the 9th grade. Once her children were grown, she felt able to turn back to her own education and purse training to find a better paying job.
After meeting with Maria Elias, a Workforce Development Specialist with Arizona NFJP grantee PPEP, Maria decided to pursue a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Class A in order to become a bus driver. Though Maria felt ready to leave field work, she wanted to stay within the agriculture industry in order to continue working with other farmworkers, whom she considers family. She also knew that the benefits of completing a CDL certification would not only include better pay, but a better and more stable year-round job. Maria’s goal was to receive her CDL Class A license and drive the agricultural buses and to follow the corrida, or movement of agricultural workers, from Arizona to California.
As an NFJP participant, Maria enrolled in training at the Yuma Truck Driving School. After completing training and passing her tests, Maria received her CDL with passenger endorsements qualifying her to drive any Class A vehicle or a bus transporting passengers.
After this achievement, Maria worked with her Workforce Specialist at PPEP to develop her resume and begin applying for jobs. After studying the labor markets in her area, she applied to a large company with grow operations in both Arizona and California that had many opportunities for their employees and room for growth. After her interview, the company was so impressed with Maria that she was hired on the spot. She now drives buses in Arizona and Salinas, California and can continue her career in the agricultural field.
This National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW), we recognize the potential in every person which can be reached with the right training and tools. The NFJP and its operations through AFOP support individual growth: but does growth have to mean growing out of the agricultural field?
Maria is notable example of potential reached through access to empowering programs and services, which allowed her to advance while sticking to her roots in agriculture. Through NJFP and PPEP, she went from seasonal field work picking winter vegetables for a below the poverty line wage to full time employment in a job she loves and that gives her independence and self-sufficiency. As we work every day supporting Maria and farmworkers like her, our goal at AFOP is to recognize sacrifices made by hardworking individuals and offer them benefits they have earned.
Read more here about today’s NFAW theme: Many Benefits and Many Sacrifices.
Kathleen Nelson is the Director of Workforce Development at AFOP.