By Paige Lambert
Alma Hernandez drove to the Texas Preparatory School where she serves lunch to the children, placing orders on the computer and giving encouragement as they pass along the lunch line. Two years ago, Hernandez had never touched a computer and didn’t have a GED.
Hernandez credits her confidence and skills to Hands of Hope, an organization based at the First Baptist Church in San Marcos. The free 10-week program, offered twice a year, holds classes on topics from budgeting and health to math and communication.
Charlotte Evans, co-site coordinator, said many of the women come from San Marcos, while some are from Kyle and Wimberley. Many are low-income and young mothers.
“Some of these women have been through horrendous things and most of them don’t have a GED,” Evans said. “What we do is get them ready so they can go into a GED prep.”
The program also helps middle-aged women, many of whom care for grandchildren, Evans said.
“They aren’t going to go out and get a job,” said Terri Clemons, Hands of Hope teacher and mentor. “They think the whole idea of education and improving themselves is a way to be an example to their children and grandchildren.”
Other classes focus on life skills, such as nutrition and childcare.
During an alumni event, a graduate of the program discussed using crockpots and created a healthy recipe book.
Clamons said many of the women are Hispanic and cook foods that are high in carbohydrates and fat.
“They are used to cooking the traditional high fat meals,” Clamons said. “So a couple of the recipes talked about cooking traditional Mexican recipes but with lower fat.”
The nutritional instruction folds over into the financial side, teaching how to be healthy and serve a family’s needs on food stamps.
“Most of these women, very few have a bank account,” Clamons said. “Their check comes in and it’s gone by the end of the week.”
The class teaches a system to help them prioritize money and manage a budget long-term.
After graduating in spring 2013, Hernandez and her husband talked with the budget class instructor about balancing their budget.
What the women learn usually spill over in the families, especially the husbands.
“Because of the encouragement I had here at Hands of Hope, I encouraged my husband and he is in college right now,” Hernandez said.
By the second week the women develop a community within the group, something that is just as important as the classes, Evans said.
The community helps build self-confidence, one of the biggest game changers for the students, she said.
“Many of the women come in with no self confidence. In about two weeks we can see that confidence come out,” Clamons said.
Hernandez said she still stays in contact with some of the women who were in her class.
The students also create a community with a mentor. They help students identify their strengths and build up their self-image.
“Whether they are really struggling or are motivated like Alma, all of them need to be listened to,” Clamons said. “Most are in homes where they are raising the children and aren’t outside the home socializing.”
Many of the women go on to get jobs, or even into further schooling. During her free time, Hernandez works on a book about her life. She is also thinking of becoming a nurse.
“I think a lot of them feel that on a less intense basis,” Clamons said. “It maybe turned their lives around, gave them a new vision of themselves and that they can be. What they can do.”