Alpha Diallo’s life has been shaped by goals. Some he set for himself and others his parents set for the family. When he was 13, Alpha’s parents emigrated with him and his siblings from Guinea West Africa to France. Their primary goal was to escape dangerous circumstances and reach safety, but their next goals were more aspirational once that was achieved. Five years later, Alpha’s family arrived in the United States in search of more opportunities. His parents worked hard to provide a better life for them while prioritizing education for him and his siblings. Their continued emphasis on academic achievement has paid off.

“I wanted to be financially independent both for myself and my parents.” Alpha recalls setting this early personal goal and points to it as his motivation for seeking out his own opportunities. As the oldest, he knew that his parents could not afford to send him to college while also caring for his three younger siblings. He would have to find a way himself. Through a family friend, Alpha learned about Capital IDEA and the Career Expressway program. This was the opportunity he was looking for, and he was ready to take advantage of it.

Going to school was overwhelming. Alpha was committed to helping his family financially even while in school. He worked as a nurse aid, but while that provided him with significant experience in the healthcare field, it also complicated matters when figuring out class schedules and finding time to keep up with all of the classwork. In addition, Alpha had the challenge of language and cultural barriers to overcome. Shortly after he arrived in the United States, he started taking English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), which helped, but it felt like there was still a gap. “It was hard for the first year in college, especially when it came to writing papers and doing research for assignments.”

Thankfully, Alpha had the support and guidance of his Capital IDEA Career Navigator, Suzanne Baker. “I enjoyed getting together to assess my progress and was provided helpful hints to get better. The advice and encouragement to keep up the work the closer we got to the end was a big help.” With the support of his family and Capital IDEA, Alpha graduated with his Associate of Applied Science in Nursing from Austin Community College in 2015. But he wasn’t done.

“Education is definitely the way out of low-paying jobs, and I think it is important to pursue it when you have the opportunity to do so.”

After graduation, Alpha’s new goal was to earn a bachelor’s degree. He secured a position with Aveanna Healthcare as a home health nurse while also continuing his education. Four years later, he earned his Bachelor’s in Nursing Science from Texas Tech in 2019. And he’s still not done.

For Alpha and his family, education is essential and the key to upward mobility in life. “Education is definitely the way out of low-paying jobs, and I think it is important to pursue it when you have the opportunity to do so.” He and his parents are incredibly proud of his younger siblings who have all achieved master’s degrees in their respective fields, and now Alpha is hoping to do the same. His goal is to pursue a Master’s in Health Administration. But what comes after that?

For Alpha, achieving one goal is never an end — it’s an opportunity to think bigger. For his next big goal, “I would like to be a part of the decision-making body to help shape health administration and legislature.” Through his exposure to the professional world and his work with Capital IDEA’s Alumni Network, Alpha has come to appreciate the importance of leadership. We look forward to the impact he’ll have as a leader in the healthcare field and the community, and we’ll continue to cheer him on as he reaches for higher and higher goals.

Capital IDEA provides an opportunity for adults to earn a degree that will enable upward mobility for their lives.

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“There’s a real problem here. Why aren’t we solving it?” When she agreed to take on the project, research fellow Sherry Sybesma had no idea there was a problem at all. But after a year spent digging into the complex issues surrounding our region’s nursing shortage, she couldn’t help but sound frustrated. Our communities’ need for nurses has outpaced the supply for over a decade, and the gap keeps growing. She was baffled and disturbed at how such a critical public health issue had gone seemingly unaddressed for such a long time.

Sherry was connected to the nursing shortage research project through Leadership Austin’s Fellows program (LAFP). The LAFP is geared towards professional executives who are retired or mostly retired, who wish to contribute to the community by choosing to undertake a project designated by various non-profit organizations in the city. Sherry chose Capital IDEA’s ‘Associate Degree RNs and the Central Texas Nurse Shortage’ project because, “It looked interesting, and I had heard of Capital IDEA, and everything I heard was positive. Capital IDEA has an amazingly strong and positive image in the community.”

Sherry arrived at Capital IDEA in January of 2020 ready to hit the ground running. The project was originally to be a narrative of the impact of the Central Texas nurse shortage on the work of non-hospital healthcare employees. Sherry had to conduct numerous interviews with non-hospital healthcare professionals at every level, from front line nurses to executives. Utilizing her skills as a seasoned executive, she managed to schedule several interviews right off the bat. But within a few months, the scope of her project took an unexpected turn.

“There’s a real problem here. Why aren’t we solving it?”

What would eventually become the worst pandemic this country had ever seen would tremendously impact her project. “I remember the moment I knew I would have to pivot. I had set up an interview at a long-term care facility. When I arrived, I was hesitant to shake hands, but they assured me they had no cases, and they weren’t worried about shaking hands. Two days after the interview, the facility had to shut down due to a city-wide order.” Shortly after that, interviews Sherry had set up for the project started postponing, and with COVID threatening to shut down her project altogether, she realized she would have to move forward however she could.

What was initially meant to be a report filled with first-hand testimonials would eventually become a data-driven summary with as many supporting statements from healthcare professionals as she could get. “Long-term care people were hard to get a hold of. Trying to get an interview with a medical person was nearly impossible.” Hospitals and healthcare facilities were overwhelmed with their short-term needs, and understandably, a researcher looking into long-term needs wasn’t going to get the time of day.

Through her alternative research avenues, Sherry discovered that the ever-widening nursing shortage had been coming on for over a decade. Multiple agencies had documented it at the local, state, and federal levels and projections for the future looked just as bleak. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, demand for nurses in Central Texas is projected to exceed supply into the next decade.[1] Between 2018 and 2032, Central Texas demand for registered nurses (RNs) is projected to grow by 45.8% and supply is projected to grow by 38.1%, for a gap of over 13,000 nurses.[2]

“It was overwhelming to see the nursing gap increasing year after year, and it was clear that we were entering a nursing shortage. And over that time, nursing schools have been turning away tens of thousands of qualified applicants.” According to Sherry’s research, nursing schools across the country rejected over 56,000 qualified applicants from undergraduate nursing programs in 2017. This problem didn’t make sense to her. “As a businessperson, I look at these two things and think, ok, we need more nurses, we have people who want to be nurses, these two things solve each other, why aren’t we doing this?”

Sherry highlighted two critical obstacles preventing schools from accepting and training more applicants: not enough space for clinicals and a shortage of nursing school faculty. From Sherry’s viewpoint, this is an issue of creativity and money. A creative solution is needed to find ways to provide real-life training experiences to nursing students. Sherry believes that “with the many creative ways in which medicine is implemented to solve health problems, why is it so hard to figure out how to get a new nurse more bedside experience?”

As for the shortage of nursing school faculty, Sherry believes this is an issue of money. She asks the question, “what can we do to make people want to go into teaching the nursing profession?” Her answer is to make their salaries competitive with hospital pay. “If they go into teaching, they are essentially taking a pay cut, so it doesn’t make sense to them.” While Sherry sees this as a simple solution and an easy first step to solving the problem, she admits that as an industry outsider and a former Senior Vice President of a successful international company, she doesn’t see this problem the same way someone from the inside would.

“It’s not a they problem; it’s an all of us problem that can’t continue to be ignored without serious consequences for our community.”

Nonetheless, she feels justified in being concerned. In addition to being a numbers problem, the ongoing nursing shortage is also taking a real toll on patient care and self-care for currently employed nurses. According to an RN that Sherry interviewed early on in her project, “the biggest issue for patient care is we’re not just tired, we’re exhausted. I don’t think my patients are getting the attention and care they would if we were fully staffed.” Without a full staff, nurses frequently have “a surge patient load that exceeds the standard staffing matrix.” And as the nursing shortage continues to grow, nurses are being asked to take on added responsibilities, which leads to morale issues and turnover. Sherry remembers speaking to a nurse who’d already reached her limit. “Once this pandemic is over, she is going to quit because it’s too much.” In Sherry’s opinion, nurses are the real heroes, and they are being overworked.

Sherry’s research in hand, Capital IDEA has renewed its commitment to moving this critical issue forward. Executive Director Steve Jackobs has elevated the nursing shortage to a strategic priority within the organization. “We must expand the infrastructures that train our essential healthcare workforce,” he says. “It’s not a they problem; it’s an all of us problem that can’t continue to be ignored without serious consequences for our community.” And moving forward, “we are taking every opportunity to support our healthcare partners, educators, and providers. We’ll fight by their side for the resources and attention this critical issue demands.”

If you know someone who is interested in becoming a nurse, please refer them to our program for assistance with tuition, textbooks, and childcare.


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Hello and welcome! We created this form so that our students and graduates would have a way to refer friends and family to our program. Below we will ask you for the information we need to start assessing your eligibility. Once you’re done filling it out, hit submit, and we’ll be in touch soon!

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When Juana Patino decided to go to college, she had no idea the kind of ripple effect it would have on her family. As of this post, three of the Patino siblings, Juana, Araceli, and Maria Laura, have all graduated from college with degrees in healthcare and IT. A fourth sister, Maria Rosa, is currently enrolled and expected to graduate in December of 2022. This month’s graduate spotlight features Juana and Araceli Patino, two sisters who struggled and worked hard to achieve their goals, and in doing so, set an example others in their family would follow.

Juana, the first of her siblings to attempt college, graduated from Austin Community College (ACC) as an LVN in 2013 and went on to earn her Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) in 2017. Today, she is a Registered Nurse with MGA Homecare. She chose a nursing career because she “wanted to do something meaningful for the world.” But to get there, she knew it would take a lot of hard work to overcome her challenges.

Juana grew up in Mexico and moved to the United States with her family in 2000. She graduated high school in 2006. As a single teen mom and the sole provider, she got a job immediately after high school. After a year working as a Wal-Mart cashier, she realized she would need a more substantial income to take care of herself and her son. She knew that meant going back to school. The question was, how was she going to pay for it?

Luckily, she remembered hearing about a program called Capital IDEA in high school. She applied and got accepted. As a student in Capital IDEA’s Career Expressway program, Juana’s tuition, books, and school supplies were covered. Capital IDEA also pointed her to other resources that helped her with gas, tutoring services, and childcare.

Relieved that paying for school was no longer an issue, Juana focused on the personal challenges that stood in her way. As the first person in her family to go to college, she had no idea what to expect. “I was nervous about going to college. I felt lost. I took things step by step, just thinking about what I had to do next.” Additionally, as a non-native English speaker, “I really struggled with medical terminology. I had to study harder than everybody else.” Thirdly, her responsibilities as a single mother weighed heavily on her as she strove to keep up with her studies.

“As long as you want to be successful, you’re going to be successful.” – Juana Patino

Mid-way through the program, these and other personal struggles overwhelmed Juana to the point where she felt she needed to drop out. Thankfully, financial assistance was not the only thing she was getting from Capital IDEA. The extra guidance and encouragement from her Career Navigator was exactly what she needed during this difficult time. “My Navigator never gave up on me. She kept calling me. At one point, I was out for a whole year, and if it weren’t for her, I probably would have never come back.” Juana resumed her studies and finished her degree, setting an example for her younger sister Araceli to follow.

Araceli was accepted into the Career Expressway program in 2012, 5 years after Juana first enrolled, and graduated from ACC in 2017. She currently works for Brightstar Homehealth as a Registered Nurse. Although she had an example in her sister, her path to graduation was likewise difficult, and Araceli had her own obstacles to overcome.

After high school, Araceli had little direction. She enrolled at ACC taking general courses, but with no goal in mind, Araceli soon drifted away from college, opting instead to work multiple low-wage jobs in fast food, retail, and cleaning offices in the afternoon. When her sister Juana told her about Capital IDEA and encouraged her to think about a job in healthcare, Araceli took an interest. She earned a short-term credential and found a job as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). But it was her sister’s example that inspired her to keep going, and soon Araceli was back at ACC, this time with a definitive goal of earning her associate’s degree in nursing.

Pictured (from left): The Patino sisters pictured with their grandmother; Juana and her son; Araceli (left) and Juana (right) with their mother.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck and threatened to derail Araceli’s aspirations. During her first semester in the Career Expressway program, her husband traveled to Mexico to visit his mother for her birthday and went missing. The family searched for years, but he was never found. There are no words to convey the loss she felt. To compound matters, she was now a single parent with one income, trying to go to college full-time while raising her two-year-old son. The experience was overwhelming. “I pushed through during the fall semester, and then I took a semester off.”

In a fantastic display of strength and courage, Araceli returned the following summer semester. “I had to finish school. I had to provide for my son. And I also had to finish for my husband.” But going to college as a single parent was challenging. “I had to sacrifice time with my kid and work nights through the nursing program. It was really rough and very hard emotionally. I had to learn to spread my time.” Yet, Araceli stayed focused through it all, and now offers this advice to other single parents in college. “Don’t lose hope. There’s an end to the road. Everything you sacrifice, all your sleepless nights, and all your tiredness and stress and frustration, it’s going to pay off. I see it now.”

For Araceli, support made all of the difference. She had her family around her and Capital IDEA in her corner. “The most meaningful support I received from Capital IDEA was the emotional support I got from Sister Ane. She made me feel loved and supported. Even though she’s tough and pushes you, she always checked on me and reminded me that we were going to get through this.” When things got really rough, Sister Ane tapped into Capital IDEA’s emergency funds to provide a month of rent for Araceli and her son in addition to gift cards that helped her persevere by ensuring their basic needs were met. In the end, it all added up to Araceli getting to where she is today—working in a job she loves with the ability to provide for her son.

“It may feel like it’s impossible, but it’s not. All the sacrifices will be worth it.” – Araceli Patino

Both Juana and Araceli overcame struggles and worked tirelessly to get to where they are. For both of them, it’s not over. They have ambitions to go further, to pursue higher education in the nursing field. Juana aims to become a Nurse Anesthetist, and Araceli plans to get her Bachelor’s Degree in nursing. With the courage and determination they have already displayed in their lives, there is no doubt they will achieve these new goals and a lot more.

Meanwhile, the ripple effect continues in the Patino family. Two other sisters embraced the opportunity to earn college credentials, and their passion for education has reverberated down to their children. “I want to help my kids not settle,” Araceli says. After seeing their mothers go to college, they now believe they can too.

Juana and Araceli hope that their stories of struggle and overcoming challenges inspire others not to settle and to pursue their own success. Juana points to the importance of believing in yourself. “As long as you want to be successful, you’re going to be successful.” Araceli encourages others to keep their eye on the end goal and not to give up. “It may feel like it’s impossible, but it’s not. All the sacrifices will be worth it.”

If you or someone you know is interested in launching a new career, contact us, and let us help you overcome your challenges to reach your career goals.

To apply, sign up for an info session: Career Up »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs

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Vision. Perseverance. Support. For Shirlet Oriakhi, these were the things that helped her achieve great things in her life. Inspired by her mother who had a gift for passing on wisdom and knowledge, Shirlet, from an early age, cultivated a vision for herself that included helping others through nursing or teaching. When the opportunity came up to be able to make both a reality, she was ready to seize it.

Shirlet Oriakhi is an Adjunct Professor in the Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) program at Austin Community College (ACC) and the Director of Nursing for LifeSpring Home Health. Shirlet loves teaching, and for that, she credits her mother. “My mom was always teaching me things. She was always asking me questions and making me think. Everything was a teachable moment for her.” For Shirlet, nursing and teaching weren’t career choices, they were callings, but for the longest time, she settled for working multiple jobs to make money. It was one job in particular that helped her realize she wouldn’t be happy as long as she wasn’t doing what she was called to do. She was working in the special crimes unit with the Department of Public Safety, but eventually, everything she saw was too much for her. “I saw a lot of criminal behaviors and things I didn’t like to see. I witnessed a lot of reports that were pretty graphic, and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted for the rest of my life. So, I decided to go to school.” She knew it was time for her to enroll in college, but finances were still a problem.

While attending classes, Shirlet came across a flyer for Capital IDEA. “These people pay for you to go to college?! What’s the catch?!” she recalls thinking. But she really needed the help. “So, I went to a meeting, and it was true!” Capital IDEA came at the perfect time in Shirlet’s life. “I had the vision, and I had the perseverance, but I didn’t have the financial support. My family was encouraging, but I needed the financial support.”

Capital IDEA paid for tuition, bought her books, and helped Shirlet finish college. In addition, they set a foundation for her continued success. For Shirlet, it was the combination of financial support along with confidence building that made all the difference. “The biggest struggle for me was believing I deserved to be in school, despite societal viewpoints of an African-American woman trying to advance herself. That was the biggest struggle—the emotional part.” She recalls people like her Career Navigator, Suzanne Baker, who consistently reminded her that she belonged in college and that she could do it. “After hearing it so much, you tend to believe it.”

After graduating with her Associate Degree in Nursing from ACC, Shirlet pursued her career in nursing. She went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and her Master of Science in Nursing with a focus on Executive Leadership and Administration, and eventually landed her job as the Director of Nursing for LifeSpring. While that job was satisfying, she never lost the vision she had to be a teacher, her second calling. One day she felt a strong desire pulling her back to ACC, to teach in the LVN program, but she knew her time was already stretched thin, so she decided not to pursue it at that time. Then one fateful evening, Shirlet reconnected with her former ACC professor, Sandra McCrary-Marshall, whom she hadn’t seen since graduating from the program. When she expressed her desire to teach at ACC, Professor McCleary-Marshall extended an invitation that seemed especially made just for her. “Here’s the kicker, she said: ‘Shirlet, I have a program that’s starting for evenings and weekends and I think you’ll be perfect.’” It was a teaching opportunity that fit perfectly with her work schedule. Thirty days later she was hired.

Shirlet has enjoyed every moment as an Adjunct Professor at ACC. Taking after her mother, she sees every opportunity as a teachable moment, which has helped especially during the current pandemic. “I’ve really been trying to keep people calm by educating them. I’ve been trying to keep them from being rattled and stressed out.” While she misses the interaction she used to have with her students, “with social distancing everyone is so stand-off-ish, the interaction is very limited,” she continues to live out her calling by educating people as a nurse and as a professor.

“The things that are in you, the desires you may have, they are there because you have the ability to do them. You just have to cultivate them with vision, perseverance, and support.”

Today, Shirlet is living the vision she had for her life from an early age. She never imagined she could be both a nurse and a teacher. It wasn’t easy, but with perseverance, the right support, and a strong faith, she made it happen. This is the message she continues to inspire her students with: “Things that are in you, the desires you may have, they are there because you have the ability to do them. You just have to cultivate them with vision, perseverance, and support.”

Do you have a desire for a better career? Let us support you as you take the first step towards making that desire a reality. If you or someone you know is interested in launching a new career, contact us, and let’s see how far you can go.

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“The only limits are the ones I create in my mind.” Teresa Garza proclaims these words as she remembers the long journey that brought her to where she is today. From academic probation to a college professor, she never imagined her career would lead her to academics. “I didn’t plan to be a teacher. It wasn’t in the cards.”

Teresa is a Professor and the Assistant Department Chair in the Radiology department at Austin Community College (ACC). She attended college immediately after high school but soon ended up on academic probation. “I wasn’t studying the thing that I enjoyed,” she says, and the lack of enthusiasm showed up in her grades. She took a break and started working at a women’s clothing store making less than $8 an hour. One day, she recalls thinking, “There has to be more to my life than picking up clothes off the floor.” In that very moment, she decided it was time to go back.

Paying tuition is challenging with an $8 an hour job. On top of that, she needed money for books and gas to drive to her classes. As luck would have it, a classmate introduced Teresa to Capital IDEA. “It sounded too good to be true.” Despite her misgivings, she attended an orientation, applied, and got accepted. “They gave me the chance. Once they gave me the chance, I took off running with it and haven’t stopped! Sometimes you just need one person to believe in you, just enough.”

After graduation, Teresa found a job at a local hospital where she spent a lot of her time teaching interns. “They seemed to just gravitate to me and would ask me if I ever thought about teaching.” She continued to dismiss the idea until she was contacted by her former professor who was looking to re-start the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) program at ACC. He asked if she would consider being a professor. Initially, Teresa declined the offer, but after two years of asking and continued encouragement from her interns, she eventually decided to give it a try. “In a weird way, I didn’t choose it. It chose me.” And she has never looked back.

Teresa has been teaching for 11 years now, and she enjoys every bit of it. This past year has presented her with new challenges. Teresa’s a people person, and it is this quality that led her into the teaching profession. The new social distancing protocols have created a lack of personal interaction with students. For an instructor used to making personal connections with her students, it’s been rough. “I feel like I don’t know them. I don’t know their personality type to be able to help them.”

In order to overcome these challenges, Teresa has employed creative methods to increase student interaction, albeit in a virtual space. She meets with a small group of students virtually every week to discuss any issues they might be having with their clinicals and in their personal lives. She’s hosted a few online game sessions outside the regular class times to cultivate some fun. And she’s also switched to doing lectures in a live format, rather than pre-recorded. This allows students to see her and interact verbally via their webcam and through the chat box.

“Sometimes you just need one person to believe in you, just enough.”

Having been a student who once struggled herself, Teresa knows the importance of connecting with her students. She understands the incredible value of having the right support system because she had that in Capital IDEA. “They had everything I needed. Especially the accountability. That helped me a lot. I can’t thank Capital IDEA enough.”

Teresa’s passion for supporting students and making a difference in people’s lives extends beyond the classroom. In 2018, Teresa accepted the position of Alumni Representative to the Capital IDEA Board of Directors. Executive Director, Steve Jackobs, recalls, “When Teresa joined the Board, she brought a critically important voice. She knows from first-hand experience our students, education, and healthcare. Her passion and perspective are invaluable.” As a member of the Board, Teresa is able to provide leadership and vision to the ongoing operations of Capital IDEA and the students they serve. In addition, Teresa has become a spokesperson and advocate at various events to help raise funds and inspire the next generation of applicants.

Teresa continues to do all she can to help students achieve their dreams. Whether speaking as a professor, a board member, or a mentor, she continually reminds us all, “If you persevere and keep working towards your goals, you can achieve everything you’ve dreamed of.”

With perseverance and the right support, the possibilities are limitless for you too. Let us help you take the first step to what could be a great career. If you or someone you know is interested in launching a new career, contact us, and let’s see how far you can go.

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The start of the 2020-21 school year is unlike anything we could have imagined. The classroom has been replaced by a computer screen, and schools are faced with new challenges as they try to create the best learning environment for their students. For teachers like Lori Lucas, adapting to a new mode of teaching has been a challenge, but overcoming challenges is nothing new to Lori.

Lori Lucas is an Associate Professor in the Professional Nursing Department at Austin Community College. Becoming a college professor was not something that Lori had in mind for herself. She’d been a dedicated stay at home mom, caring for her family, stretching a budget, and homeschooling her three children while her husband ran their family’s small business. But when their business started struggling, Lori and her husband realized they needed a second income to make ends meet.

After 16 years at home, Lori not only found it difficult to send her three kids off to school, she also struggled to find a job. Lori knew she needed more education and training in order to get a job that would pay enough to help support her family, but she doubted her abilities to do well in school. “I had no confidence. Growing up, no one ever looked me in the eye and told me I was smart. I always thought I was just not competent.” Thanks to the encouragement from a friend who pushed her and introduced her to Capital IDEA, Lori took the plunge.

At that time, Capital IDEA had a smaller presence in Williamson County, but as luck would have it, a volunteer-lead committee called the Whitlow Education Fund Task Force was hard at work. They were raising funds to expand support for Capital IDEA students from Williamson County. When the enrollment window opened up, Lori applied and was accepted. Capital IDEA was able to provide Lori with tuition, textbooks, and the support she needed to attend nursing school. “They paid for everything—including shoes! When you’re poor, shoes are a big deal.” Lori recalls, in a grateful tone. “It really, really, helped me. It was the most fundamental help I received, and it was so wonderful.”

Lori graduated from ACC with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. After graduation, Lori was accepted into the St. David’s residency program for graduate nurses working in the emergency department where she became a trauma certified nurse. After years at St. David’s Lori was introduced to hospice care, where she was “forever hooked.” After acquiring her Bachelors of Science in Nursing and a certification in hospice and palliative care, she joined the team at Hospice Austin.

Lori continued her educational journey and earned a Master’s Degree in Nursing, which opened the door for her to become a professor at ACC. “Even before I obtained a job, I always gravitated to sharing information, and mentoring people is a treasure.” With her previous experience homeschooling her children, coupled with her passion for mentoring, teaching made sense. Today, Lori continues to work for Hospice Austin during the school breaks.

Lori credits a lot of her success to the people in her life. “My stories always go back to relationships. Like my friend who helped me. People matter. We matter to each other, and what we do influences one another.” One of those people was Sister Ane Nguyen. Sister Ane was Lori’s Career Navigator throughout her time as a student at ACC. “If I have had any success, it’s because of the support I received from Capital IDEA. Sister Ane had very high expectations for me, and I did not want to disappoint her.”

“If I have had any success, it is because of the support I received from Capital IDEA.”

Lori knows the important role she plays in the lives of her students because she was once a student herself. She is all too familiar with the struggle to succeed and provides the best support she can to help, as friends, family, and Capital IDEA once did for her.

One of the best parts about Lori’s story is that Capital IDEA was only the beginning. Once she’d earned her associate’s degree, she had the confidence to keep going on her own, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Today, Lori is pursuing her doctorate in Organizational Psychology.

Let us help you take the first step to what could be a great career. If you or someone you know is interested in launching a new career, contact us, and let’s see how far you can go.

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“Women coming together to make a difference.” This statement sits atop the Seeds of Strength (SoS) website, a giving circle based in Georgetown, Texas. It is a strong statement that perfectly describes the core of who SoS is, and what they’re all about. This group of women, ranging in ages from the mid-20s to well into their 90s, made a choice to pool their resources to make a difference in their community. Since their founding, SoS has awarded 92 grants, totaling $1,538,000 to local non-profit organizations that provide community enriching services in Georgetown.

This generous giving circle is the result of a small group of women with a passion to make a positive impact in their community. According to Lexi Elliott, Member and Former SoS Board Chair, “They realized that the needs of Georgetown would continue to increase as the city grew, so they wanted to create a way for women in the community to learn more about the needs of our Georgetown neighbors and come up with a democratic process for pooling resources and allocating them to non-profits.”

Since 2012, SoS has invested $95,000 in Capital IDEA’s mission. This funding has been used to help Georgetown students attend Austin Community College and provides other resources to assist them throughout their educational journey and helps them land a job in their field. The mission of Capital IDEA is very meaningful to Lexi: “I believe that the benefits to our community are truly immeasurable when you help an underserved community to attain the education and training that they need to pursue a career. The long-term benefits to the individual, their family, and their personal network are compounded and our entire city benefits.”

The significance of SoS’s investment, for Capital IDEA, is how it helps offset the increased cost of Georgetown residents. As Executive Director, Steve Jackobs, reminds us, “Because the city of Georgetown is outside the Austin Community College Taxing District, tuition for these students is significantly higher than their in-district counterparts.” The higher tuition rate makes it difficult for individuals like Lissette Padro, a Capital IDEA graduate from Georgetown, to attend college without assistance.

Lissette Padro with her 3 kids at her daughter’s graduation.

Lissette’s story is one of hope and serves as a beautiful example of how a community of people can provide the support needed to rise from a difficult situation. Lissette was a victim of domestic violence, which led to divorce. Her life as a single mom to three kids, with no child support, was made more difficult because a lack of education limited her to low-wage jobs. Lissette knew she needed a better paying job to provide for her kids. Capital IDEA was the opportunity she needed to make that a reality. Going to school as a single parent with three kids wasn’t easy, but she was determined. With a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and the support of her Capital IDEA Career Navigator, she was able to make the grades needed to be accepted into the highly competitive Dental Hygienist program at Austin Community College, and eventually graduate.

Lissette is one of many examples of Seeds of Strength’s life-changing impact and generosity. Without their support, Capital IDEA would not be able to help as many students in Georgetown. Thank you SoS for your support, passion, and dedication to improving communities. For more information about Seeds of Strength, you can visit their website at:

If you’d like to support Capital IDEA, and empower your neighbors with educational opportunities, click here to make a donation, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@captial_idea_atx) to share our message with your own community.

Join Our Team
Capital IDEA is looking for an experienced case manager (3+ years of experience working with adults receiving direct services and/or high school students transitioning into college). The Career Navigator provides case management for about 80-100 adult students and guides them through the successful completion of their academic plan in preparation for job placement. To be considered, applicants’ resumes should clearly include a track record of teamwork and student success. Please highlight in your cover letter and resume the skills you’ve developed to help students succeed, and how you’ve contributed to effective teams in the past.

About Capital IDEA
At Capital IDEA, we’ve built a diverse and dedicated team that shares a passion for our mission. We aim to empower our income-eligible neighbors with training and education so that they can fill a critical need in our community for caring, skilled, and highly motivated workers. Since our founding in 1998, more than 1,600 Central Texans have launched new careers and secured a brighter future for themselves and their families. When you join our team, you’ll have high expectations to meet and big goals to work towards. You’ll also have a team who supports you, and you’ll know you’re making a difference.

To Apply
Start by reading the full job description and qualifications: Career Navigator Job Description PDF »
Next, email resume and cover letter with salary requirements to Program Manager, William Askew, Jr.
Deadline to apply: Friday, July 24, 2020
Salary range: $44-46,000


Dear Friends,

As the Chair of Capital IDEA’s Board of Directors, I’m pleased to share our 2019 Annual ReportRead Now ». In previous years, this would have arrived in your inbox in April, but this year has been different for us all.

As I revisit 2019 through the lens of an annual report, I see an organization I am proud to be a part of — it is steady, stable, and thoughtfully charting a course for future growth.

Fast forward to today, 2020 has challenged us all in new ways. I’m proud of how Capital IDEA’s staff have risen to the challenge of serving our students amid a global pandemic, reinventing, and retooling our core program, as needed. Our funders, partners, and community of supporters have met our needs and the needs of our students in countless ways.

We’ve long believed that Central Texas is a special place, a pool of talent, intelligence, compassion, and potential. But we didn’t know the depths until this year. I invite you to spend some time with our 2019 Annual Report. Enjoy the backward look and know that the 2020 Annual Report will attempt to convey all of our gratitude to you — the amazing, unshakable community of Central Texas. We are steadily moving forward for you and because of you.


Melynda Caudle
Board Chair, Capital IDEA
President and CEO, Cooper Consulting Company

2019 Annual Report PDF – Read Now »

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Tania Santiago-Kelly will do whatever it takes, going to extraordinary lengths to reach her goals and provide for her family. Over 14 years ago, Tania was living in Mexico with her son. In order to make ends meet, she worked three jobs. One of which paid her five dollars per day, with no overtime. She could work over 10 hours and still only bring home five dollars. For Tania, something had to change. She knew she had the drive to make it, she just needed an opportunity.

In 2006, Tania and her son emigrated from Mexico to the United States. “In Mexico, sometimes you get an opportunity. Here you have the opportunity.” With only $200 in her pocket, Tania did what she knew to do — she secured another three jobs: cleaning houses, making tacos, and working as an administrator. With her English being almost non-existent, her employment opportunities were limited to low-wage jobs. But if it took working three jobs to support her and her son, that’s what Tania would do.

“In Mexico, sometimes you get an opportunity. Here you have the opportunity.”

Eventually, Tania married, and along with her husband, Mike, they began to dream of buying a home where they could raise their family. They would get one step closer to that dream when her priest, Fr. Joe Tomei of St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church, told Tania about a program called Capital IDEA. The program would be able to provide Tania with the opportunity she had longed for. By paying for her college education, Capital IDEA could prepare Tania for a professional career, one that paid a living wage, and gave her advancement options. English would still be a problem, but after discussing her situation, Capital IDEA approved English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes to prepare her for college.

The road to graduation wasn’t easy, but with the support of Suzanne Baker, Tania’s Capital IDEA Career Navigator, as well as her husband, Mike, she pushed through. “It was hard. I was in my 40s. I’m from Mexico, and I had to learn the language. Also, I had to do a lot of studying to learn the medical language. But Suzanne was very good at guiding me by giving me very high goals. I wanted a house, and I wanted to pay for college for my son. I think that’s why I didn’t quit.” Her husband Mike was a tremendous help by encouraging her and carrying the extra load at home to provide time and space for Tania to focus on her studies. Eventually, in 2016, after 10 years in the United States (two years spent in ESOL classes, almost three years earning prerequisite college credits, and a year and a half in the vocational nursing program at Austin Community College), Tania was finally ready for her new career as a Licensed Vocational Nurse. So, she went to work.

In 2020, as daily life shifted and the world first started responding to what would soon escalate into a global pandemic, Tania once again, had an enormous challenge to face. With senior citizens being some of the most vulnerable people, nursing homes all over the country began implementing strict safety procedures. At Brodie Ranch Nursing and Rehab Center, where Tania works, they put in place strict protocols, asking their employees to go above and beyond at work and at home to keep their patients safe. “If we want to keep our jobs we had to follow some strict rules outside of the nursing home. The administrator told us we could only go shopping once a week, or try to go once every two weeks. And if we go out, we need to wear our masks and our gloves. We also had to keep strict cleaning procedures at home and to make sure everything is sterile. Because if COVID-19 came into the nursing home, it would be from one of us.”

Tania was required to keep her house clean and sterile by CDC and WHO guidelines. This included things like wearing gloves for all cleaning and disinfection. In addition to using soap and water to clean surfaces, an EPA approved disinfectant also had to be used. All high touch surfaces have to be cleaned on a regular basis, including things we usually don’t think of like doorknobs and light switches.

“You get into nursing because you have the heart and passion to save lives.”

For now, Tania’s job has encompassed her personal life, but she continues to persevere as she always has. Her life has prepared her for these difficult times, and she understands this is all part of being a nurse. This career choice is not just about the salary. “You get into nursing because you have the heart and passion to save lives. It’s hard sometimes because as a nurse you can get contaminated, but our mission is to save lives and keep people safe.” Tania has spent her whole life rising to the occasion, and in a time when lives depend on a nurse’s capacity to go above and beyond, it’s Tania and others like her that we’re so grateful to have on the front lines keeping us and our loved ones safe.

At Capital IDEA, we envision a thriving Central Texas where non-traditional students like Tania have the opportunity to get an education, earn a living wage, and reach their full potential.  As Tania’s story shows, sometimes you have to go to extraordinary lengths to take advantage of an opportunity and rise to your full potential. If you’re ready to do the work, we’re ready to support your education and help you get into your future career. Get Started »

To learn more, sign up for an info session: Career Up »
To ask a question, contact us at: 512-457-8610 or

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The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Ramos, and so many, many others confront us forcefully and inescapably with the violent racism endured by our Black neighbors, colleagues, students, friends, and family. We must not forget. It demands that we listen deeply and attentively. We must act.

We, as individuals and as an organization, will stand with our Black students, neighbors, and community. We will tune in to the messages of our local Black leaders and social justice organizations and we will amplify their voices.

For more than 20 years, we have worked in communities of color to empower individuals with an opportunity for education and a better life. Working in these communities has taught us that change at an individual level is only the beginning. Lasting change must happen at a systemic level, which is why we will continue our efforts to increase voter registration and voter turnout, and we will impress upon our neighbors the vital importance of being counted.

A commitment to dignity and prosperity for all is at Capital IDEA’s core. Success in education and career are essential for a prosperous community. But not enough. We acknowledge that racism is deeply embedded in our institutions, neighborhoods, and history. We know that implicit bias can go undetected and do great harm. In the coming weeks and months, we will not shrink from asking ourselves tough questions. And if we find we can do more, do better — we will.

We are all in this together — listening, learning, and acting.

Melynda Caudle

President, Cooper Consulting
Board Chair

Rev. Katie Wright
Associate Rector, St. David’s Episcopal Church
Central Texas Interfaith
Vice Chair

Steve Jackobs
Executive Director


“If I have the skills, what am I doing sitting back?” There is a sense of purpose and conviction in Irene’s voice as she expresses that sentiment from her hotel room in New Jersey. Irene Reyna, Capital IDEA alumnae, just spent the day settling into what will be her new home for the next 10 weeks. Responding to a deep sense of purpose, Irene took a courageous step and volunteered to go to the New York City area to help with the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “Think about those nurses. There’s only a certain amount per patient that are sick, and they’re so run down. I know I can’t help the world, but if I can help those nurses have one more day off or two, that would be worth it.”

Irene is a Registered Nurse at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. A single mother who has raised 3 sons, she realized over 16 years ago that she could not provide for her family working as a waitress, and she needed to do something else. “I have one life to live, and I want to live with choices.” When Irene heard about Capital IDEA from her sister, she thought it was too good to be true. After some investigation, Irene applied and was accepted into the Career Expressway program offered by Capital IDEA. She was pregnant with her second child, due in November, and planning to start school in January. Unfortunately, her baby was born with complications. “I called Capital IDEA and told them my situation, and they held my spot for an entire year. For them to have waited for me for a year, that meant a lot to me. That meant to me that they were true with their commitment.”

Irene was finally able to start, but going back to school was hard for her. “I remember Sundays was McDonald’s day. We would eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner there. The kids would play on the indoor playscape while I studied. I had to be very disciplined.” The support that Capital IDEA gave was instrumental in helping her through this time. “I knew that I had support from Capital IDEA, like if I needed tutoring or childcare.” Irene will be forever grateful for the commitment Capital IDEA made to her and her family. Her Career Navigator, Maria Mora, was a tremendous source of support and guidance for her. “I was a brand new mom. Yes, I was an adult, but I wasn’t prepared to be one. I had an awesome counselor that stood by me.”

Irene graduated in 2007 with her A.D.N. (Associate’s Degree in Nursing) from Austin Community College. “If Capital IDEA hadn’t given me the opportunity to get my degree, I don’t know where I would be today.” Years later, she continued her education, and in the Spring of 2017, she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Grand Canyon University. “If I would’ve believed the people that said it was too hard, there would be no way I could afford to provide for my family. Now I know I can take care of my children. I’m stable and able to pay my bills.” It is this same courage that helped her tackle her rigorous degree programs that has driven Irene to the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.

“This is my opportunity to step up. I know it’s going to be dangerous, but this is what we were trained for.” With the blessing and support of her children, Rodolfo (21), Oscar (20), and Joshua (11), the youngest who will be staying with his older brother while she’s away, Irene set off to the northeast to utilize her training and skills to be a part of the solution. A small bright spot to her heading to New York is that Irene will be able to do the work she’s called to without the stress of exposing her family to the virus when she returns home each night. As of this post, it has been reported that New York City has over 135,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with around 10,000 deaths. “People in Texas seem to not be worried about this. Probably if they saw the rooms full of bodies, where their families aren’t able to say goodbye, they would understand how real this is. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Irene urges everyone to only go out for the essentials, stay home, and wash your hands.

Irene believes that being a nurse is about loving people. “We want our families to have the best of care. I took an oath to be there for people and care for them in the very best way I can.” Capital IDEA is proud to #SupportNurses and is proud of all its graduates in the healthcare industry putting themselves out there on the frontlines of this pandemic.

If you’re interested in a rewarding career in healthcare, you can get started with an associate’s degree, and we can help you earn it. Get Started »

To apply, sign up for an info session: Career Up »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs

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While many of us are sheltering-in-place at home, Ytzayana Macias puts on her scrubs and goes to work. She is a Medical Surgical Nurse at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. “Feels a bit eerie. There are no visitors allowed in the hospital. We have been very intensely trained in personal protective equipment (PPE), and have to be very careful and mindful of everything we do.” In the midst of a pandemic, it is healthcare workers who are on the frontlines. “It is scary. I did come into this career knowing I would be exposed to a lot of things.” Still, her commitment to being a nurse has not faltered. “I know I’m doing what I can, and what I’m called to. If anything were to happen to me while nursing, it would be worth it.”

Ytzayana’s passion for nursing started at the age of 15. In her youth, she remembers being sick quite often and always in and out of hospitals. One of the things she remembers fondly from those experiences is the bonds she formed with the nurses. The nurses took care of her and were always there when she needed them. It was this display of care and compassion that inspired her to pursue nursing.

Once out of high school, Ytzayana had her eyes set on the nursing program at Texas State. Unfortunately, when she got her scholarships, she realized it wouldn’t be enough. She couldn’t afford Texas State, but she could and would find another way forward. She decided to attend Austin Community College (ACC). Her first semester, she not only attended classes full-time but also worked full-time to pay for school. It was exhausting. One day, her father came with information about a program that could pay for her college tuition and books. “I thought it was a scam initially.” It seemed too good to be true, but she decided to attend an information session. Soon after, she was accepted into Capital IDEA’s Career Expressway program, where she had the opportunity to attend ACC free of charge. In May of 2018, she became the first college graduate in her family when she received her Associate’s Degree in Nursing.

Looking back, Ytzayana believes that ACC was the right decision. “I love the small class setting.” Not only that, but she has also seen firsthand that nursing graduates from ACC are extremely well trained and the most prepared to handle any challenge thrown at them. In addition to the support and training she received at ACC, Ytzayana is hugely grateful for all of the support she received from Capital IDEA. Not only did they pay for her expenses, but her Career Navigators, Lori and Theresa, provided a lot of emotional support. Their encouragement was a key factor in her perseverance to finish nursing school. As of this post, she’s returned to ACC and is now only a few months away from finishing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

When asked what she would tell someone considering a nursing degree during these challenging times, Ytzayana commented: “Being scared is ok. If you want to become a nurse because you want to help people, this is the time.” She has not, for one second, regretted her choice to become a nurse. Her training and education prepared her to handle the challenges, and her positive attitude and passion keep her going back to work. With a calm and confident voice, she offers encouragement by saying, “We’re going to be fine. Disasters happen. The human population is resilient. The important part is to take care of each other.” And also, she makes sure to remind us to, “stay home, and wash your hands.”

Capital IDEA is proud to support nurses like Ytzayana, who are out there doing all they can to care for and protect our community during times of crisis. More are needed. If nursing is your calling, we invite you to learn more about how Capital IDEA can support your education.

To apply, sign up for an info session: Career Up »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs

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NOTICE: We’re taking steps to practice responsible social distancing which can help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19 ). For the time being, we’ve set up a temporary process for new applicants.

4 Steps To Apply

Thank you for applying to Capital IDEA! Our Temporary Application Process will allow you to complete the application process from your home computer or smartphone. For anyone without a home computer or smartphone, we have paper packets to mail out, and we’re available to walk you through the steps over the phone. Call our helpline to get started.

Helpline: 512-485-9350 or

STEP 1. Get to Know Us

Time needed: 35-45 minutes.
Before you get started with any paperwork, you need to know more about our program, qualifications, and career choices. We present this information in our CareerUp info sessions. You have two options to choose from:
1. LIVE. Sign up to attend a live presentation of our Online CareerUp information session.
CareerUp: Online — Sign Up »
– or –
2. ON DEMAND. Get started by watching a recorded CareerUp info session available right now!
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STEP 2. Fill Out an Application

Time needed: 15 minutes.
Capital IDEA Application »
Note: If you’ve filled out an application with us before, your application will be flagged as a duplicate. Don’t worry, just continue on to the next step. If you need to update your information, call our help line.

STEP 3. Take an Assessment

Time needed: 15 minutes.
We are temporarily accepting an online assessment called the O*net Interest Profiler. Take the assessment and save your results (print to PDF, or copy and paste to a Word document). You’ll upload your results in Step 4.
O*net Interest Profiler »

STEP 4. Upload Documents

Time needed: 1 hour.
This is the final step to complete your application. You will see a list of documents to collect at the bottom of this page. Because this step is the big one, and we know you might have questions, we have staff ready to help! If you haven’t called our helpline yet, now might be the right time to take a breath, and give us a call. We can explain which documents you need and why: call or email.

Time to gather your documents and make digital copies. You can use your phone to either take pictures (make sure the text is clear), or use an app like the Adobe Scan app linked below. Once you have them, you will submit your documents using the secure document upload form. You can submit the form more than once, if you need to, just be sure to keep track of what you’ve sent so that you’ll know when you’re done. Remember, never send personal documents or information through email.
Secure Document Upload »

FAQ: How do I scan documents? If you don’t have a scanner at home, you can use your smart phone and an app called Adobe Scan.
Get the Adobe Scan app »
How to use Adobe Scan tutorial video »

Documents to Collect:

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Required documents:
  1. For yourself, submit three items: 1. your driver’s license (or other state issued ID), 2. social security card, and 3. birth certificate (or permanent residency card).
  2. For your spouse or partner, submit 2 forms of ID. These can be any of the following: birth certificates, social security cards, passports, driver’s licenses, or state identification cards. Documents from foreign countries are acceptable, but if you have U.S. documents, please submit those.
  3. For each additional child or dependent in your household, submit 2 forms of ID: birth certificate, and social security card.
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  • If you’ve attended college, submit your college transcripts. Unofficial copies are acceptable.
  • If you have not attended college before, submit your high school diploma or GED.
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  1. Required: Pay stubs for one month of income for yourself and/or your spouse
  2. Required: Your most recent tax return
  3. Required, if applicable: Retirement, SSI, Workman’s Comp, Disability
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Common types of assistance that must be documented, if applicable:
  • Food stamps, AFDC/TANF, Medicaid, Medicare, WIC, unemployment, child support, housing or utility assistance, refugee assistance
  • Letters of support from family or friends who are paying some or all of your expenses or giving you money to help you out. The letter should state whether their support will continue while you’re in school.
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Types of financial aid that must be documented, if applicable:
  • Education loans, grants (PELL Grant, or SEOG, TPEG), scholarships
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Proof of address and residence.
  • Provide a lease, mortgage statement
  • If you do not have a lease or a mortgage, provide these three things: 1. a letter from the individual providing your housing. 2. You will need to provide a utility bill with his or her name on it to show that they are the head of household at that address, and 3. you must provide any piece of mail with your name on it to show you receive mail at that address.
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Types of basic utilities that must be documented:
  • Electricity, gas, phone, and water
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Types of monthly expenses that must be documented if they apply to you:
  • Car payment, car insurance, child care, credit cards, cell phone, cable, internet, monthly rentals of storage, appliances, or furniture, etc.
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  • If you have a criminal record, please submit a copy of your criminal background. You’ll need to get a copy from the DPS.
  • If you do not have a criminal record, skip this item.
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  • If you or your spouse served in the military, please submit a copy of the DD214.
  • If you are a male, U.S. Citizen, who did not serve in the military, please submit proof of selective service registration. You can print that here:
  • If neither applies to you, skip this item.


Nonprofits do great work that can benefit an entire community. In doing so, they sometimes face unique situations and challenges for which trusted legal counsel becomes indispensable. When you think of a nonprofit, their need for legal guidance may not immediately come to mind. Still, it is vital from day one. Legal counsel is essential when the organization first establishes its 501(c)3 status and continues to be important as the nonprofit grows. Since our founding in 1998, Capital IDEA has been fortunate to have Gray & Becker, P.C., as our legal advisors.

Gray & Becker, P.C., is a local law firm based in Austin. Serving clients throughout Central Texas for more than 30 years, they specialize in Business & Commercial Litigation, Family Law, and Employment Law. The firm’s outstanding work in the legal community has earned them a reputation for excellence. Yet, even among the demands of running a top law firm, they still find time to give back to the community. They have been known to participate in fundraisers for Volunteer Legal Services of Texas and are a proud sponsor of Capital IDEA.

Pictured: Dianne & Douglas Becker

Gray & Becker, P.C., has partnered with Capital IDEA since the very beginning. They started as Capital IDEA’s legal counsel, then became a prominent financial supporter. Since 2002, they have sponsored Capital IDEA’s annual Celebration of Achievements. When asked why they continue to support Capital IDEA, Douglas Becker replied, “When I think of Capital IDEA, I think of inspiration. I think of students who have been inspired and in turn, go and inspire others.” The mission of helping people get educated and receive quality, relevant job training was something that resonated with the people at their firm.

Not only are they a proud event sponsor, but their legal expertise over the years has also been crucial. According to Capital IDEA Executive Director, Steve Jackobs, “they helped us navigate tricky waters during a time when the City of Austin established a short-term gag rule that prevented nonprofits from speaking to any government employee other than one designated contact.” This rule tripped up other nonprofits, and at least one was caught unawares by a violation finding. Since Capital IDEA works closely with several departments within the City of Austin, and other city branches and officials as well, legal counsel was crucial when working with public contracting during that time. Douglas Becker, of Gray & Becker, P.C., was an invaluable guide and helped Capital IDEA steer clear of any entanglements and keep operations going.

Without the support of local organizations, such as Gray & Becker, P.C., Capital IDEA would not be able to do what it does. Whether through legal counsel or financial contributions, they have shown us the power of local organizations coming together to support nonprofits for the betterment of a community. We thank them, and we thank all of you who continue to support the mission and vision of Capital IDEA.


This year’s Aurora Alworth Spirit award was given to Alondra Rodriguez. Although Alondra couldn’t be there in person to accept the award on March 5, 2020, she prepared and shared her story ahead of our event.

About the Aurora Alworth Award:
   skip to Alondra’s story

The Aurora Alworth Spirit Award was named for one of Capital IDEA’s earliest students whose perseverance and commitment to her education could not be extinguished, even by cancer. Aurora maintained her studies during her treatment and was an inspiration to her fellow students and Capital IDEA staff. Aurora passed away in 2002. We proudly honor her memory by recognizing one of our graduates who exemplifies this same spirit of perseverance, determination, and inspiring others.

This year’s Aurora Alworth Spirit Award recipient is Alondra Rodriguez. Alondra started with Capital IDEA in 2015 as a College Prep student. For a decade before that, she’d held onto a dream of becoming a nurse without any idea of how she would get there. Although she often feared it would never happen, she clung to hope, and in 2019, Alondra became the first person in her family to a graduate college.

Her Career Navigator, Sister Ane nominated Alondra for this spirit award because, throughout her time in college, Alondra had a heart for others and showed a willingness to help her peers, often taking time to work with other students who struggled despite her own demanding schedule and family responsibilities as a single mother of three.

When asked about her motivation to lend a hand to those around her, Alondra said that seeing others struggle reminded her of herself, and she knew how hard it could be to feel like it was the end of the world. Having someone to tell her that she could keep going made a huge difference to her and she wants to be that for other people.

For Alondra, that has meant getting involved in the Associate Degree Nursing Student Association to support her fellow students. She would reach out to those a level or two behind her in the nursing program, offering them encouragement, pulling them forward, and helping them find resources to keep them on track. Previously, Alondra also shared her personal story with the teen mom classes at Any Baby Can for the same reason — to be that voice of encouragement.

This award recognizes Alondra’s spirit of dedication to education, perseverance to overcome challenges, and willingness to help those around her.

Alondra Rodriguez’s Story:

My name is Alondra Rodriguez, I am a first-generation Mexican-American and a single mother of 3. My parents came to the U.S in search of the “American Dream” and a better future for us.

My father worked hard 7 days a week and often double shifts. He taught us that the only way to make it in life was to work twice as hard as the average person and save your money. I remember thinking from a young age that once I graduated high school, I would get a job to help them pay their bills. That was my end goal.

But then my grandmother got diagnosed with cancer. Growing up, I spent every summer and two weeks in the winter with her in Mexico every year. As her condition got worse, treatment options were basically non-existent. It was a huge eye-opener, and that’s when I knew that I wanted to make a difference for others like her.

Unfortunately, my teenage years got a little complicated, and I became a mom at the age of 15. I moved out and took on the responsibilities of my own household while still trying to finish high school. When I had my second child, I was transferred to Austin Can Academy, but instead of continuing, I dropped out and got my GED. It was a rough time, and I struggled with all the things that I see other teen moms struggle with: feeling overwhelmed, angry, and scared.

When things didn’t work out between me and the father of my children, I moved back in with my parents. Without their support, I don’t know if I would have made it. I had young children to care for, and I knew college was not an option. I needed a job, but I felt limited by my education. I wasn’t qualified to work in healthcare, which was still my dream.

I was fortunate to find a decent job at a clinic that primarily served low-income immigrants, and I was at least partially fulfilling my dream of helping those in need. After eight years there, they gave me the opportunity to work a few days a week as a Medical Assistant, and the other days I did administration and billing work. Although I felt lucky to have the job, I knew I wanted to do more.

In 2012, my oldest daughter took it upon herself to apply to Anne Richard’s Academy and got accepted. She wants to be a pediatrician. As we were talking about HER college plans, she helped me realize that I could still make my own dreams come true.

I took the first step and enrolled at Austin Community College. Then the realization of how expensive it would be hit me like a pile of bricks. I was the sole provider for my children, and I was already working full time and barely making ends meet. There was no way I could do it alone.

Thankfully, I heard about Capital IDEA. Not only did they pay for my classes, books, uniforms, and supplies but they assigned me a personal navigator that was truly my angel. Sister Ane took the time to listen and motivate me when things got hard and I felt like giving up. In nursing school, you have a lot of these moments.

Thanks to the love and support of my family, friends, and Capital IDEA, I made it! I am the first college graduate in my family. Unfortunately, my grandmother couldn’t be here to see it, but I know she is looking down on me and smiling. My parents are so proud and my siblings, too. My youngest sister has enrolled at ACC and is studying to be a sonographer.

I am now a Registered Nurse at St. David’s South Austin Hospital in the Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. It’s the same floor I worked on as a patient tech while I was in school. Once, when my school schedule got too demanding, I tried to quit, but instead of letting me go, they created a nurse externship position that allowed me to work one day a week. I felt so appreciated and valued. It was such a different experience from my early days when I was sure no one would want to hire me. I’m somewhere I’m needed, and I’m helping people every day. I finally have my dream job!

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This spotlight is a transcript of the acceptance speech given by Aida Nacro at the Capital IDEA Celebration of Achievements luncheon on March 5, 2020. Aida received the Mark Melliar-Smith Leadership Award, presented by Alyssia Palacio-Woods.

  skip to Aida’s speech

Hello, My name is Alyssia Palacio-Woods. I am President & CEO of Austin Young Chamber, and a Board Member with Capital IDEA. This year, it is my honor to present The Mark Melliar-Smith Leadership Award. This award was created to honor and cultivate the tradition of leadership among Capital IDEA’s students and graduates. It is named for former Board member Mark Melliar-Smith whose level of involvement and dedication over his twelve years on the board serves as our example of excellence in leadership.

This year’s award goes to Aida Nacro.

Aida graduated from Austin Community College in 2016 as a Network Administrator. Aida knew that she wanted a career working with computers, but obstacles in her life prevented her from following that dream. Then she applied to Capital IDEA where she demonstrated focus, determination, and a high level of motivation.

After graduation, Aida made time in her extremely busy schedule to advocate for Capital IDEA by participating in Accountability meetings with local officials, visiting the State Capitol, and representing Capital IDEA at events with funding partners. Aida was also a member and key contributor to the IT Action Committee, a community collaborative that worked over the course of two years to address a critical need for trained IT workers to fill open positions. The committee made huge strides in improving our community’s ability to provide the right training and grow a local IT workforce.

Aida has also taken on a leadership role within Capital IDEA’s Alumni Association. She has managed all of this while also working full time as a Network Administrator, raising her two children as a single parent, and working towards her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.

Aida, please accept this award in recognition of your passionate and steadfast leadership.


Hello, My name is Aida Nacro, I am happy to be here today. I am originally from West Africa and I am a mother of two children. I was married, but in 2011, my ex-husband left, placing our family in a very vulnerable position. I started working over-time, but even working fifty hours or more a week, I still struggled to make ends meet. I felt uncertain about our future and had no time to dedicate to my children. That is when I heard about Capital IDEA, through a co-worker.

I could not believe that they would cover my tuition, fees, books and some child care assistance. It was the support I needed to finally go after the career I’d always wanted. I was accepted to Capital IDEA and decided to follow my heart and pursue a degree in Network Administration. My Career Navigator was so supportive, and Ron, the Employer Coordinator, helped me secure a paid internship, which gave me hands-on experience.

Now, I work for the Travis County and even though I am the only woman in my team, I feel right at home. I love my field, and I want to do my part to encourage and mentor other women to pursue degrees in tech careers. I also want to give back to the community that help me reach my goals. I am very involved in community work through my church. But my proudest achievement is being an example to my children and providing them with a better life. Thank you.

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This spotlight is a transcript of the keynote speech Jaime Martinez gave on March 5, 2020 at Capital IDEA’s Celebration of Achievements luncheon.

When you look back at your life, who are the people that believed in you the most?

My name is Jaime Martinez, and I have been fortunate enough to have been surrounded by people who believed in me and pushed me to accomplish so much in my life. The truth is, school never came easy for me. I was not the best student in high school. That was probably because I didn’t put in a lot of effort. In fact, I remember when I asked my mom if she was coming to my high school graduation she joked: “I don’t believe you, you never to go school. I’m afraid if I go they’re never going to call your name.” In case you’re wondering, they did call my name, and I did graduate.

After high school, I married my high school sweetheart, Norma, and found a job at a fast-food place. Even though I didn’t study hard, I did believe in working hard. My willingness to show up and do the work eventually earned me an assistant manager position. I was making the most money I had ever made in my life, and yet I still felt like I wanted to do more for my family.

One day when my wife, Norma, was taking our daughter to daycare at a church she found a flyer for Capital IDEA. She came home and told me, “You can do this.” Remembering I was not the best high school student, I hesitated. I finally went to an info session, and this seemed too good to be true! I couldn’t believe that they would pay for everything. So I applied and I got in the program.

I know there are some students in the audience today that are going through the program now. I want to encourage you to keep going. Going to college wasn’t easy for me, either. I couldn’t speak English very well when I started so I had to improve my language skills. I also had to continue working to support my family. So I was attending classes from 5 pm-8 pm every day, and studying late into the night, then getting up in the morning to go to work. I know how you’re feeling right now. It’s a lot of work and it feels like it will never end. My advice is to trust that your hard work will pay off. Even if you’re struggling — keep at it.

For me, my hard work started paying off in 2003, when I earned my two certifications in A+ and Network + from ACC. Shortly after, I was able to land an interview with a contract agency that worked with Dell. I was applying to be a Customer Service Technician, but I didn’t get the job. Still, I impressed the person interviewing me so much, that he offered me a job as a Prototype Technician instead! I was so excited.

I worked as a Prototype Technician for about 5 years, and I was very happy there. Eventually, a position opened up in another department for Program Manager. I didn’t know anything about program management, but my supervisor encouraged me to apply. He recognized my work ethic, and he knew that what I didn’t know about the job, I would learn. After a round of intense and difficult interviews, I got the job.

I’ve been at Dell for 16 years. I’ve moved up from Prototype Technician to where I am today as a Senior Advisor for Project Management. I have two certifications from ACC, and I have managed to beat out people with higher degrees from top universities for jobs. Do you know what made the difference? People saw and recognized my drive to keep learning and my commitment to do whatever is needed to get the job done.

One of my former supervisors at Dell still tells the story about one winter when a hard freeze hit the Austin area. Since Dell is a corporation that allows its employees to work remotely, everybody in our department called in that day. When my supervisor called to check on me, he asked, “Jaime, where are you?” I said to him, “I’m in the lab, where else would I be? It’s a workday.” He was so impressed that he started using that story as an example of what a good work ethic looks like.

How you present yourself and the effort you put in matters. This is something I try to teach my kids. I tell them that I expect from them the same thing I expect from myself; to work hard and to keep learning. I even bring home my annual reviews to show them what people at work say about me. This way I can show them that I’m not asking them to do anything I won’t do myself.

Another piece of advice I would give is to surround yourself with people who believe in you. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do anything. They don’t matter. The people who have mattered to me are the ones who encouraged me and believed in me. I had many supervisors at Dell and at the fast food place that valued me and always encouraged me when I moved on to something else.

During my time at ACC, one of the people who was really important to me was Theresa, my Career Navigator at Capital IDEA. She was always there for me. She would call me to make sure I was keeping up with my studies. She knew when I had big tests coming up and would ask if there was anything I needed help with. She even found a way to help me out with gas when I needed it to get to classes. When I wanted to quit she was there to encourage me to keep going. And when I graduated she is the one who introduced me to the contract agency that got me the interview with Dell.

Capital IDEA did so much more than just pay for my school. They supported me throughout the whole process, and they opened a door for me that I never thought would have been possible. I have a wonderful career with so many opportunities for advancement still ahead of me. I now earn about 4 times as much money as I used to. I have a great house and a daughter who now has the opportunity to go to a top university. I get to run marathons as a hobby. I get to travel all over the world for work and see some pretty amazing things.

Last, but definitely not least, I have to tell you about my wife Norma. She has been my rock. My encourager. She believed in me from the very beginning and always knew I could do anything I put my mind to. She stood by me and kept our family together during those hard times when I was hardly available to her because I had to work and study. And even when I wanted to quit, she encouraged me to push through, and she never stopped believing in me. I owe her everything.

Before I finish I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of you. If you’ve ever supported Capital IDEA in any way, you have also supported me, and people like me. Capital IDEA opened a door for me to a future that I never would have dreamed of. Every time you give to Capital IDEA you provide an opportunity to change someone’s life. Isn’t it incredible to believe that your support has helped someone go from a small-town farm in Mexico, into a high paying job at one of the largest computer companies in the country? I am so thankful and proud to be a Capital IDEA graduate. Thank you for your support.

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Caprice Boxton is an Austinite through and through. Her family has lived here for generations, dating back to the late 1800s. Caprice says she “grew up in Austin living a normal life.”  She graduated from LBJ High School, and like a lot of people, she struggled to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She knew college was in her future, but she didn’t know what career field to pursue. Her creative side was pulling her toward art, but she needed something with more financial stability.

It was at this point where she met a Capital IDEA alumnus, Katherine Kirby, who introduced her to a program that would pay for her education and provide a sense of direction for her life. Before applying to Capital IDEA, Caprice was working low-paying jobs with companies such as McDonald’s. Now she was enrolled in Austin Community College (ACC) working toward a career as a Dental Hygienist.

The Dental Hygiene program wasn’t easy for Caprice. The course work was rigorous. “I really had to push myself to learn things. I’m not the best learner; the way I see things and interpret things are a little different.” What Caprice found at ACC was an extremely helpful faculty that showed her skills and techniques that would help her excel as a dental hygienist. “Some of the instructors even came in early to help me.”

Through Capital IDEA, Caprice was able to identify a career path that she enjoyed while also providing security for her financial future, and in May of 2012, Caprice graduated from Austin Community College with her Associates of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene.

Caprice appreciated the amount of support Capital IDEA offered her throughout her time at ACC. Though, one of the best things about Capital IDEA for her was their commitment to diversity in the workplace. When Caprice entered the dental hygienist program she was not aware of the incredible lack of diversity in the field. According to the latest statistics for dental hygienists, 88.6% are White, with the next two race or ethnicity categories coming in at 4.3% for Asians and 3.67% for Blacks.[1]

Caprice recalled “feeling awkward” at times while enrolled in her program at ACC. While none of her instructors or fellow students did anything to make her feel this way, the awareness that she was the only person that looked like her was enough to give her pause.

When it came time to apply for jobs, she recalled the advice that people gave her to, “look for a place where there was already some diversity,” as this would increase her chances of getting hired. As well as hints that she should steer clear of small practices since “dentists are sometimes reluctant to break the mold by hiring a black dental hygienist because it’s not something that common.” After numerous job interviews, Caprice finally landed her first dental hygienist position with a corporation serving thirty-one dental offices in the Austin and Houston areas. As she explained, “corporations are usually a lot more diverse, there are more legalities and structure.”

The struggle to find work in the dental hygienist field is not unique to Caprice. Martelle Coke, the founder of BrownGirl RDH, an organization dedicated to bridging the diversity gap within the dental hygienist community, is all too familiar with stories like Caprice’s. The members of her organization form a community that encourages and inspires each other when facing the trials of disparity within the dental hygienist field. One such member, a dental hygienist for 22 years, living in Texas, recounts her story of losing out on a job due to her skin color:

“I’ve experienced not being hired because of my black skin twice to be exact. One in McKinney, Texas. The doctor found my resume on Indeed and was excited to meet me because we both graduated from the same private college in Wisconsin. The interview over the phone went so well, he basically gave me the job over the phone.” But the next day when she showed up in person, she was told the job was filled. The next day, a colleague inquired about the position and was told it was still open, and they were eager to schedule a hiring interview.

Caprice believes that diversity is necessary to help people live healthy lives. She understands that “People tend to be more comfortable and go to someone they look like. It’s about relatability.” Caprice also believes that diversity in her field is necessary to ensure equal care for individuals of all backgrounds, and this will only get better when there is more representation. For her, without her friend encouraging her and the support from Capital IDEA, she would have never even considered dental hygiene as a career. “People need to see other people that look like themselves.” Her advice to other minorities thinking about entering a field with a lack of diversity is: “Go at it hard. We need to represent in every field.”

Capital IDEA is committed to increasing diversity in our local workforce. In 2018, over 70% of Capital IDEA students were ethnic or racial minorities, and 77% were women.

For more information on BrownGirl RDH, visit:


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Capital IDEA students have been placed in new careers


Most graduates TRIPLE their previous earnings


was the average starting wage for all 134 job placements in 2019 including 15 early placements


individuals received direct support from Capital IDEA in 2019


has been invested in our students’ tuition and books since Capital IDEA first opened in 1998

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Graduate Spotlight: His Next Big Goal

PUBLISHED APRIL 8, 2021 Alpha Diallo’s life has been shaped by goals. Some he set for himself and others his parents set for the family. When he was 13, Alpha’s parents emigrated with him and his siblings from Guinea West Africa to France. Their primary goal was to escape dangerous circumstances and reach safety, but […] Read More

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