Learning Without Limits: Caritas of Austin’s Education Program Goes Virtual

Caritas of Austin understands people need more than physical resources to reach their full potential. Education is also a critical component for enhancing well-being, and essential to helping clients build knowledge, secure employment, and participate actively in our great community.

Created in 2004, Caritas of Austin’s Education program started with the aim of helping people build job readiness skills and life skills as they move from surviving to thriving. Thanks to generous donors like you, dozens of people each year learn how to prepare for job interviews, create monthly budgets, and be a responsible tenant once stably housed.

That changed with the emergence of COVID-19 when in-person classes were no longer a viable option. “We were only prepared for in-person modality of classes,” said Program Manager Mayra Lopez Gutierrez.  

Caritas of Austin was forced to pause Education services for a couple of months, but proved once again that, with an innovative spirit and the partnership of supporters, we can adapt and serve clients in new and better ways.

New tablets and software, virtual learning expertise and platforms, and internet services for clients were some of the most important ways donors stepped up to take classes virtual in 2020 and 2021. A big thank you to Independent Financial, The Posey-Glickert Foundation, Seawell Elam Foundation, GarverGives, United Way and other individual donors whose generosity made this all possible.

The new technology presented initial challenges for the Caritas team. “Attending classes is a huge step for clients because most have not been in a formal learning environment for years. The use of technology adds a layer of complexity to the process,” said Gutierrez.

So, in addition to transitioning existing classes to virtual format, the Caritas team also developed a new class series called Intro to Technology. Many clients have never used a computer before, so new training materials feature a lot of visuals, including computers that are labelled so they remember what each button is for.

“When you don’t know a lot about computers, you’re a little embarrassed because everybody else does,” says client Melanie Hantz. “But they made me feel very comfortable in the class and not overwhelmed. They taught me what I need to do… and they’ve given me a sense of confidence.”

Melanie has now completed her certification for a Food Handler’s license. She’s also learning how to utilize social media to sell her artwork, and Caritas provided her with the tools she needs to promote it online. 

With virtual classes fully implemented, Education services are now more accessible for clients who are immunocompromised or feel overwhelmed coming into the office. It also minimizes the transportation and child care issues faced by many of the people we serve.

Additional 2021 highlights in Education include clients taking ACC classes online, financial literacy classes taught by Independent Financial, and new drawing, creative writing and reading club online classes that increase connection for many.

 “We are deeply grateful to the generosity of the donors who have made this project possible,” says Gutierrez of the Education program’s evolution over the past year. Your generosity is still important! Additional tablets and laptops are needed to expand accessibility to more of the people we serve.

To learn about how you can help, contact Lauren Portley at lportley@caritasofaustin.org.