By Jeff Sanchez | OCTOBER 26, 2022

“I did this for my daughters. I started this journey to take care of them.” When Dr. Debra Utpadel was asked what she was most proud of, she did not hesitate to mention her daughters, “The best thing to come out of all this is that I have two wonderful daughters who look up to me as a nurse with a doctorate.” Dr. Debra is working on something bigger than herself. She’s leaving a legacy for her daughters in the same way others left one for her.

Dr. Debra has benefited from the legacies of the strong women in her family. Her desire to help people was a character trait learned from her great-grandmother. “She was always helping people, and I was always with her when I was little.” Her passion for nursing came from her great aunt, a nurse herself, who introduced her to the nursing profession when she was a young teen. Ever since Dr. Debra has pursued a career as a nurse, but her journey took longer than expected.

Her entry into the healthcare profession was working as a paramedic while she applied to nursing school, but time and again, it didn’t work out. “Getting into school and paying for tuition were some of my biggest roadblocks. I had tried to get into nursing school at ACC for 3 or 4 years to get into their ADN program. I had applied to get into nursing colleges all over Texas before my kids were born.” In the early 2000s, not unlike now, nursing schools had limited spots and numerous applicants, and Debra had no luck in landing one of those coveted spots. After her second daughter was born, life as a single parent got demanding. Her EMS certification expired, and she no longer had the time for nursing school.

“I did this for my daughters. I started this journey to take care of them.”

Debra had no choice but to walk away from healthcare and her family legacy. She felt hopeless as a single mom of a newborn and a toddler. She cleaned houses to scrape out a living for her family, and she had little to no time for anything else between her job and her responsibilities as a parent. She knew an education would help her, but it felt so far out of reach. Interestingly, she received a bit of hope from an unlikely place, her gynecologist. She gave her a flyer about a program called Capital IDEA that would pay for her degree. Debra went to an information session because, why not? What did she have to lose?

A funny thing about legacies, they often hinge on small moments that make a lasting impression. That’s exactly how Debra remembers her CareerUp information session. “(Career Navigator) Sister Ane saw me and came towards me. I think she saw that I was in great distress, and she told me that this wasn’t the end and I wasn’t going to be on welfare forever, and she talked me into the program. It was Sister Ane who convinced me to go to school. I wasn’t going to go back. I was done.” Sister Ane encouraged Debra to do this for herself and her daughters. And just like that, she was back to building on her family legacy. Debra applied and got accepted into the program. Now came the hard part, going to school.

Walking into a classroom as a student in her thirties was a bit intimidating. “Back then, adult learners weren’t the thing. I was the oldest person in my LVN class.” But as time went on, the helping nature that was passed down from her great-grandmother came out, and soon Debra would find herself guiding some of her classmates. “I was able to help the people younger than me. They looked up to me. There was quite a number who were single moms. They were struggling to get through classes because they didn’t realize what was out there to help them.”

“(Career Navigator) Sister Ane saw me and came towards me. I think she saw that I was in great distress, and she told me that this wasn’t the end, and I wasn’t going to be on welfare forever, and she talked me into the program.”

Yet, as helpful as she was to others, it didn’t make going to school any easier for Debra. “I had my Career Navigator on speed dial. Every time it got tough, I called Maria Mora to tell her that this was too tough and hard. She held my hand through the whole thing and kept telling me I could do it.” As a single parent, she not only had to figure out childcare while she was in classes and, subsequently, her clinicals, but she also had to figure out when to study. Fortunately, her mom could help with some childcare responsibilities, but she lived across town, “Sometimes I had to drop off my kids at 5 a.m. to make clinicals. I did that for about 18 months through my program. It was really difficult to put in the time to study. Sometimes I wouldn’t go to bed until 2 a.m. and wake up 2 hours later to study more.” Capital IDEA helped by providing resources to supplement daycare, and eventually, the long days and sleepless nights culminated in Debra earning her Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). She continued the legacy of her great aunt, who worked as a nurse, but was also creating her own, as she became the first female in her family to get a degree.

Overcoming her obstacles to getting her ADN gave Debra the confidence to do more. Debra went on to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN), her Master’s degree, and a Doctorate in Nurse Practice and is now a Board Certified Adult Geriatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner. Her career took her from the Austin area to Connecticut, Arkansas, and finally, Nacogdoches, Texas, where she is the Senior Nurse Practitioner at East Texas Community Health Services, helping people who need it the most. Her clinic provides medications at little to no cost for an immigrant population with little to no money to pay for healthcare. Her patients are more than bodies she patches up, they’re people she cares for, even to the point of walking them through the grocery store to teach them what foods to buy for their diabetic needs, leaving a legacy of love with a population that is so often forgotten.

“Sometimes, I had to drop off my kids at 5 a.m. to make clinicals. I did that for about 18 months through my program. It was really difficult to put in the time to study. Sometimes I wouldn’t go to bed until 2 a.m. and wake up 2 hours later to study more.”

Yet, the most important legacy for Debra will always be the one she has passed on to her daughters. While Dr. Debra was earning degrees and working as a nurse in various locations, she raised two strong, independent women, of whom she is very proud. “They love school. It gave them the sense that they needed to do something with their lives. They know they need to go to school to become somebody so they can take care of themselves.” Her youngest, Roxanne, saved up her money as a teenager and purchased her first house at 18, and now is going to nursing school to pursue her BSN, following in her mother’s footsteps. Her oldest, Samantha, was diagnosed with autism as a teenager, and she was told she would never be able to live alone and care for herself. “When the doctors told her this, she said, ‘Yeah, No.’” Today, at 24, she is pursuing a degree in Neuropsychology and living very comfortably on her own.

As Dr. Debra nears retirement, she’s not done adding to her legacy. She still teaches the new nurse practitioners at her clinic, and “I’m really considering going back to school and getting a Post Master’s certification in Psych and Mental Health. I really like to travel, and if I’m a psych mental health nurse, I can do that from anywhere.” Yet even with all her accomplishments, Dr. Debra remembers that she benefited from the many people who helped shape her, encourage her, push her, and uplift her. And to prospective students, she offers this advice: “Capital IDEA is a family. There’s always somebody there that you can talk it through and figure it out. You’re not on your own. You just have to take that first step. Sometimes just knowing you belong to something bigger than yourself will encourage you to try and do it.”

“Capital IDEA is a family. There’s always somebody there that you can talk it through and figure it out. You’re not on your own. You just have to take that first step. Sometimes just knowing you belong to something bigger than yourself will encourage you to try and do it.”

Just like Dr. Debra, you can create a legacy that you and your loved ones will be proud of. And we’ll be with you every step of the way. You can email our team at outreach@capitalidea.org, or sign up for an information session: LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




SEPTEMBER 28, 2022

We’re Hiring a Community Outreach Coordinator!
Capital IDEA is looking to add a third Community Outreach Coordinator to our growing team. This is a full-time, 2-year contract for a bilingual outreach professional looking to serve a great mission. If you’re a people person with a passion for helping others succeed, read on. This might be the perfect job for you. We’re on a mission to help thousands of our low-income, Central Texas neighbors reach their full potential and move into great careers. As a member of our outreach team, you’ll be tabling events, making community contacts, hosting information sessions, and looking for new opportunities to get the word out about our Career Expressway program. Ideally, you’ll bring three to five years of relevant experience in recruitment or outreach to low-income populations.

What’s it like to work at Capital IDEA?
At Capital IDEA, we aim to empower our income-eligible neighbors with training and education so that they can reach their full potential and fill a critical need in our community for skilled and highly motivated workers. Since our founding in 1998, more than 2,000 Central Texans have launched new careers and secured a brighter future for themselves and their families. Capital IDEA has built a diverse and dedicated team that shares a passion for our mission. When you join our team, you’ll have high expectations to meet and big goals to reach. You’ll also have a team who supports you, and you’ll know you’re making a difference.

To Apply
Read the job description and qualifications: Community Outreach Coordinator Job Description (PDF)
Email resume to Larry Cummings, Intake & Placement Manager: jobs@capitalidea.org

Closing date: NOVEMBER 15, 2022
Salary: $48,000 – $50,000, DOE
Contract duration: 24 months

UPDATED: September 19, 2022

BIG NEWS — Extension approved! In January 2022, we announced we had expanded the list of career opportunities available to applicants from Hays and Bastrop counties. This expansion was set to expire at the end of September 2022, but has now been extended a full year! The new expiration is September 30, 2023. This means residents who apply in the next year can still choose from the same full list of careers available to Travis and Williamson County residents. Your college degree is FREE to you — just pick your new career and receive all of the benefits of our Career Expressway program:

● We will pay your full tuition each semester, purchase your textbooks, and pay for miscellaneous fees including required tools and uniforms.

● We’ll also offer childcare assistance to parents.

● Once you’ve earned your degree, we’ll guide you in your job search and help you land your dream job. It’s our mission is to get you into a new career, and we’ll be with you from start to hired!

Share on Facebook »

Which Careers Are New?

Previously, Hays and Bastrop residents had a short list of nine or fewer healthcare careers to choose from. On our expanded list, the number of careers has more than doubled! Choose from three additional Healthcare careers, three Technology (IT) careers, and nine Trades & Other careers. See below. These added careers include several exciting options. Advanced Manufacturing was added to our list less than a year ago. Automotive Technician includes a professional toolset purchased for each student. And LAN Systems Network Administrator is our most popular IT degree. Each career on our list offers great pay and growth opportunities, which means the hard work you put in now will pay off for the rest of your working life. Follow the links in the list below for information on the career you want to learn more about, or visit our Career Directory »

Once you’ve found your future career,  Sign up for a CareerUp information session. We’ll cover everything you need to know about how to get your FREE degree through our Career Expressway program, sign up!

Careers Open to Hays & Bastrop

*Newly added for Hays and Bastrop

Field Career Options
Registered Nurse (RN, ADN)
Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)
* Biotechnology
Dental Hygienist
Diagnostic Medical Imaging — Radiology
Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
* Health Information Technology (Medical Coder)
Medical Laboratory Technician
Occupational Therapy Assistant
Physical Therapy Assistant
* Respiratory Therapist
Surgical Technician
Info Tech * LAN Systems Network Administrator
* IT User & Computer Support Specialist
* Computer Programming: Web Development
Reliability Icon * Advanced Manufacturing Technician
* Automotive Technician
* CAD – Computer Aided Design
* Electronics Technician
* Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC)
* Land Surveying Technology & Geomatics
* Power Technology
* Renewable Energy Technician
* Utility Lineworker


For a full list of qualifications, please visit: Qualifications »
To get started, sign up for a CareerUp information session:


FAQ: Why is this program FREE?
We’re a nonprofit with a mission to get our Central Texas neighbors into great careers. Each year, Capital IDEA raises enough money to pay for tuition and textbooks for over 800 adults, like you! If you’re eligible for our program, your tuition and textbooks are already paid for by the generous support of our funders, including the City of Austin, Travis County, and St. David’s Foundation. Get started with your FREE education —

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




This is a transcript of the speech given by Alicia at the 2022 Whitlow Ice Cream Social Event | SEPTEMBER 14, 2022

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Alicia Rodriguez. A few years ago, I was one of the featured families in the Austin American Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign. At the time, they called me an ‘aspiring nurse.’ Well, I’m proud to tell you that I am no longer ‘aspiring.’ I am now a Pediatric Site Nurse at Lonestar Circle of Care in Round Rock, thanks to Capital IDEA and donors like you.

I grew up in the valley, raised by my wonderful mother, Zonia, and I originally attempted college right out of high school. My mom had never been, which would have made me a first-generation college graduate. But I was young and unready for the responsibility. When I didn’t feel like going, I didn’t go, and after a semester, I dropped out.

When I turned 21, I left home looking for something new, but 5 years later, my grandmother got really sick, so I moved back to help take care of her. When she passed, my mom and I moved out of the valley to be closer to family and settled here in Williamson County, in the Round Rock / Hutto area. Soon after, I met the future father of my children. I had A.J., my oldest son, and Ezra a couple of years later. At the time, I was working as a medical assistant with Lonestar Circle of Care. I enjoyed it, but I realized that if I wanted a bigger family, which I did, I would need to make more money.

At Lonestar, I saw all the nurses in action, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The problem was I needed a degree. I’d heard about a program called Capital IDEA but thought to myself, ‘nah, it’s too good to be true.’ There had to be a catch, but I went to a CareerUp info session anyway, and I learned there wasn’t a catch, and I got really excited.

“They called me an ‘aspiring nurse.’ Well, I’m proud to tell you that I am no longer ‘aspiring.’ I am now a Pediatric Site Nurse at Lonestar Circle of Care.”

Going back to school as an adult with a family was much more difficult than I expected. The schoolwork and studying were hard enough, but I also had a lot to deal with in my personal life. During the 4 years I was with Capital IDEA, I had my third son, Felix, I separated from my husband, and my mom developed kidney failure, which required dialysis 3 times a week.

A lot of pieces had to come together to make it work. I moved my family to subsidized housing in Georgetown and found an early morning dialysis appointment for my mom. From there, I’d drop the boys at school and then head to my own classes before going to work.

Eventually, the strain started to catch up to me. I started feeling guilty about leaving my mom to take care of the kids in the evenings while I was at work. I also didn’t get to have any time with my boys. I would come home right at bedtime most nights, and the weekends were spent studying. I’d be on my laptop, and my boys would sit next to me with their toy tablets and pretend they were studying, too, just so they could spend time with me.

It was too much, so I did the math and figured that if I quit my job, we could just barely squeeze by on my monthly child support and Pell Grants. It was tight, and there was no cushion for extra things like car repairs. And then an unexpected blessing happened.

“I don’t know if you realize how much good you and Capital IDEA do for families like mine. This has changed my family’s future.”

I got a call from Amy Silvey of Capital IDEA that I was selected as a Season of Caring recipient! What a blessing, and it couldn’t have come at a better time! The funds paid for car repairs, utility bills, groceries, and more. It gave me the help I needed to make it to graduation. And the blessings just kept coming.

I was able to continue my education and earn my bachelor’s degree. I was also able to return to Lonestar Circle of Care, where my years spent as a medical assistant helped me get a job as a Pediatric Site Nurse. Not only that, I got a day shift with weekends off! I’m making up for lost time with my boys. And I just bought a house — a 4 bedroom in Jarrell with a big back yard!

I am so thankful for all the blessings God has given my family. He took care of us through it all and brought wonderful people, like those at Capital IDEA and all of you, into our lives. I don’t know if you realize how much good you and Capital IDEA do for families like mine. This has changed my family’s future. Now, my boys know they will go to college, and I’m their example. They’ve seen how hard work and education can make for a better life, and I am so grateful for that. On behalf of my family, thank you, and God bless you.

Just like Alicia, you can go from aspiring for a new career to accomplishing your goals. Sign up for a free, no-obligation info session to get started today. You can email our team at outreach@capitalidea.org, or sign up for an information session: LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




By Jeff Sanchez | AUGUST 29, 2022

When Rebecca Meneses’ life got off track, her road back was anything but easy. “Being a single mom without any formal education was so challenging.” She was lost and needed to find her way back, if not for herself, to provide for her son and the big family she hoped to have someday. “As a kid, I always told my mom I was going to have ten kids! I just love kids, but when I became a single mom, I didn’t know if that was ever going to be a possibility.”

Like almost thirty percent of Capital IDEA students, Rebecca’s parents were college graduates, and they wanted the same for her. “I always knew college was expected growing up, so it was never a question.” Her parents taught her to have goals and work towards them, and Rebecca’s goals were to go to college, get a good job, and start a big family. But Rebecca would soon learn that life is more complicated than that, and sometimes, our plans can go awry.

In her final year of high school, Rebecca’s best friend tragically passed away. “I was kind of lost after that. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” She got pregnant the summer after high school graduation, and her college plans got waylaid. She ended up marrying the father of her child, but shortly after that, they divorced, leaving Rebecca as a young, single mother with an infant son to take care of.

Rebecca worked a full-time job and would clean houses on the side to make ends meet. “I was working 12 hours a day, six days a week, not getting any time with my son. That’s not something I wanted to do,” said Rebecca. Feeling trapped and with no way out, Rebecca did the best she could to provide for herself and her child. But this wasn’t the life she wanted; this wasn’t the life she had envisioned.

“I was working 12 hours a day, six days a week, not getting any time with my son. That’s not something I wanted to do.”

Rebecca knew she needed to find something better for herself and her son but didn’t know how. Then, when her brother got sick, Rebecca found herself curious to learn more about his illness. “I was really interested to know what happened to him, and the science in nursing really sparked my interest.” Unfortunately, with the demands on her life as a single parent, going to nursing school seemed like an unattainable goal. She would need help, and that’s when her cousin told her about Capital IDEA. It sounded too good to be true, but with nothing to lose, Rebecca attended a CareerUp information session and was convinced. This program could help her to her new goal of becoming a nurse!

In addition to tuition, books, and childcare, Capital IDEA also provided proven strategies for succeeding in college. “Capital IDEA gave me a recipe for success. They had parameters we needed to maintain, like a certain GPA and a certain level of attendance. That gave me accountability and a sort of recipe to follow.” Throughout her college journey, Rebecca met regularly with her Career Navigator. “The weekly check-ins were so helpful. Just having someone who was consistently there rooting for you was so helpful.”

Rebecca also received wrap-around support when her finances threatened her progress. “Capital IDEA provided me with Wal-Mart gift cards, which was so helpful because I could use them for gas, food, and school supplies. That was a huge help! I can’t tell you how many times those cards saved me.”

Even with all that support, Rebecca still had to figure out how to manage a part-time job, keep her grades up in college, and do everything that came along with being a single parent. “It was tough, but I made it work. I took any free hour I had to study. I even used to read my anatomy books to my son as bedtime stories to get some additional study time!” Going to college was more than just getting a degree and a good job for Rebecca. It was a way for her to provide a better life for her son and to show him that if you work hard, you can accomplish your goals.

“Capital IDEA gave me a recipe for success. They had parameters we needed to maintain, like a certain GPA and a certain level of attendance. That gave me accountability and a sort of recipe to follow.”

In 2010, at 29, Rebecca graduated with her Associate Degree in Registered Nursing and was excited to accept a position at the Children’s Hospital of Austin soon after. “I love working with children. I think they are so inspiring, and they have a lot to teach us. Working with children, I can really help our community and our families.” Twelve years later, she continues her work with children, earning several certifications in pediatric care—Certified Pediatric Nurse, Certified Pediatric Massage Therapy, and Certified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric Nurse. She is now at Dell Children’s Hospital, where she’s transitioned into hospice care. “I’m able to be there with the families and walk them through the end-of-life journey and teach parents how to love during that difficult time.”

Today, Rebecca enjoys the life she once envisioned for herself as a teen. She happily remarried in May 2021. Her husband brought over two kids from a previous marriage, and now Rebecca has a full house with five kids. “It’s so wonderful to come home from work, be tired, and have all these little faces looking at you, and they’re excited and happy to see you. It’s so rewarding and so fun.” Her newly blended family is extremely supportive and understanding of the emotionally demanding nature of her work. “I have a great support team. My husband is so supportive and so understanding of my role and the importance of my job. He allows me to have space to talk or just to have time for myself. I rely on my family a lot for that kind of support.”

Finding her way back was not easy for Rebecca, and it took a lot of support to get her to where she is today. She is so grateful for her loving family, including her mother, stepfather, father, and grandmother. “My dad was a huge inspiration to me, a driving force to get my goals started, and the person I talked to for advice. But the person I’d like to acknowledge the most is my grandmother. She drove me to my Capital IDEA assessment, was there for me through thick and thin, always supportive, my ally, she is my everything and remains my cornerstone.”

“You have to go for it. Even if you are apprehensive or feel like you can’t do it, just do it. Capital IDEA will hold your hand through it, and they will help you achieve those goals. If they see the attitude that you want to get this done, they will do whatever it takes to get you there.”

Rebecca is only too happy to share her life lessons with prospective students who might feel the same way she did, that their life has gone off track, and they don’t know what to do next. She encourages them to set goals, then go for it, utilizing any and all resources and support available to them, like Capital IDEA. “You have to go for it. Even if you are apprehensive or feel like you can’t do it, just do it. Capital IDEA will hold your hand through it, and they will help you achieve those goals. If they see the attitude that you want to get this done, they will do whatever it takes to get you there.”

Just like Rebecca, you have the capability to get your life back on track, but first, you have to get up and go for it! And we’ll be here to support you through it all. You can email our team at outreach@capitalidea.org, or sign up for an information session: LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




By Jeff Sanchez | AUGUST 5, 2022

When the Topfer family set out to start a foundation, they had two goals in mind—to help their neighbors and leave a legacy of giving for their family. “The family has a heart for people, and they genuinely care about the health and well-being of Austin,” said Melanie Cazier, Topfer Family Foundation (TFF) Program Officer in Austin, TX. “They want to leave it better than it was when they started.” Through their compassionate act of giving, the Topfers have helped transform the lives of countless individuals in their communities.

The Topfer Family Foundation was created in 2000 to help connect people to the tools and resources needed to build self-sufficient and fulfilling lives. They carefully select organizations that focus their energies on one of five key program areas– child abuse prevention and treatment, youth enrichment, job training, and support services, children’s health, and aging in place. As of December 2021, TFF has given nearly 78 million dollars in donations to organizations in the Austin and Chicago areas. “The growth in Austin is immense, and the needs for people are growing too. That’s why we stand by those organizations that are providing those core services as Austin continues to grow,” said Melanie.

Capital IDEA is one such organization. The partnership between Capital IDEA and the TFF started with a story, Melanie recalls, of a young woman who was living in a shelter. After connecting with Capital IDEA, she moved to transitional housing, got her degree in nursing, and changed her life. “Years later, she had a child that went to college and became a nurse as well, so it really transformed that family forever. It wasn’t just the mom; the daughter was influenced as well. Stories like that were really compelling for us.”

More than 20 years past their initial introduction, TFF continues its faithful support of Capital IDEA, with their lifetime giving now totaling well over a million dollars. Both the level and consistency of their support have had a huge impact on Capital IDEA’s ability to deliver on its mission, a fact that is not lost on Capital IDEA’s Executive Director, Alyssia Palacios-Woods. “At $85 per credit hour, 1 million dollars is a serious investment in the college attainment of our low-income neighbors. In the non-profit world, this steady and reliable giving allows us to plan ahead, commit to new students, and support them for the time it will take for them to graduate and enter employment.”

“Capital IDEA is one of the few organizations in town that is truly lifting families out of poverty.”

The way Capital IDEA supports students produces results TFF is interested in. “The people that Capital IDEA supports go on to graduate and live successful lives for themselves and their families. Just the fact that this organization is helping people go on and live self-sustainable lives is wonderful,” said Melanie. This type of impact is what the TFF believes will help transform communities. “Folks who graduate from Capital IDEA’s program are able to go out and live self-sufficient lives and make an impact in the community they live in through their work and their support of the community.” When asked why Capital IDEA would make a good investment for anyone, her reply was clear, “Capital IDEA is one of the few organizations in town that is truly lifting families out of poverty.”

If you’d like to support our mission: Donate »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




To Our Retiring Executive Director : Thank you, Steve Jackobs, for more than 23 years!

Dear Friends,

Since its founding, the road to opportunity and success has been paved by the vision and dedication of Capital IDEA’s founding Executive Director, Steve Jackobs. Some of the organization’s most proud accomplishments during his tenure were Steve’s successful efforts to widen the road of opportunity for low-income adults in Central Texas in general and Capital IDEA students in particular. Wherever roadblocks narrowed the path, slowing some down and leaving others behind, Steve dug in. He worked tirelessly and relentlessly to draw attention, resources, and community support to these areas. He was a collaborator when collaboration was the way forward and an agitator when the status quo needed a shakeup. And through these efforts, he brought awareness to numerous opportunities for improving workforce outcomes for bright futures. You can see a highlight of celebrated milestones on page 3 of Capital IDEA’s 2021 Annual Report.

Under Steve’s leadership, in 2021, Capital IDEA students continued to prove that with support, they can navigate the roadblocks that life sets forth. Their tenacity and ability to stay the course have been remarkable, and you can find highlights from the year in our 2021 Annual Report. Please enjoy!

Rev. Paul Skeith
Board Chair


Annual Report 2021 (PDF)

Pictured Top left: Michael with daughters, Andrea and Sofia and grandson Dakota Lee; top right: Michael with son Kevin; bottom left: Michael accepting check on behalf of Dream Come True Foundation; bottom right: Michael at work

By Jeff Sanchez | JULY 8, 2022

Michael Rayos has made many choices in his life, both big and small, and in the words of the beloved literary character, Albus Dumbledore, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” This is especially true of Michael. By going to college, earning a degree, and working hard, Michael has proved to himself that he is capable. As a result, he now has a great job and earns an amazing salary. But Michael’s story isn’t just about him discovering his own capabilities, it’s also about the many choices he made along the way. Some were big and some small, but all of them reveal something about Michael and who he truly is.

From an early age, Michael knew he wanted his career to have something to do with computers. “I watched a movie, and I remember a line that said: ‘Computers are the key to the future.’ All the way back from high school, when you asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would say I want to work with computers.” He had never owned a computer before and barely even knew how one operated. “Remember those old AOL commercials offering the CDs for nine dollars? I remember begging my mom to get it for me, thinking that was a computer. Then one day someone told my mom it was just the thing that went in the computer. When I found out, I was crushed.” But that didn’t stop Michael from dreaming that one day he would be working with computers.

After graduating high school at 17, Michael had only a vague idea of what came next. “My parents worked in the auto detailing business, and no one else in my family had gone to college, so there were no examples in my life that I could look up to.” He applied for student loans and moved from Austin to Abilene. “I needed to get away because there were too many distractions here, so I chose a college far away so I could focus.” Unfortunately, it didn’t go well. “Growing up the way I did, no one taught me how to properly study and prepare for tests. I didn’t have the structure to help me be successful in school.”

“All the way back from high school, when you asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would say I want to work with computers.”

Meanwhile, Michael had two nieces and a nephew who were coming up on two years in the foster care system, a cutoff date that meant the children would soon be eligible for permanent placement. No one in his family was able to take them in, so Michael was faced with a big choice. “When the caseworker made it clear that they were going to start looking for forever families, I asked if I could do it. I had already been thinking about it, and when the opportunity came, I signed up.” Now 19, Michael made a big choice to drop out of college, move back to Austin, and adopt them himself.

Michael found a job that would accommodate his new life as a single parent. It paid just enough for him to provide for the kids, if only scraping by. College was out of the question. “I had to choose between school, working full-time, and being a full-time parent. If I did all three, something would’ve suffered. I had to work full-time to provide. My kids had suffered enough, so I couldn’t do that to them. So, I chose not to go to school for now.”

As his kids got older, Michael attempted college again. Again, it did not go well. “High school doesn’t prepare you for college. In high school, I figured out how to get by. In college, getting by doesn’t work anymore.” He didn’t finish the one course he’d registered for, and now, he was coming to the realization that perhaps it was time to stop chasing his childhood dream.

Then, on a Sunday morning at church, his pastor asked if she could start praying for an opportunity for Michael to go to college. Michael wanted to dismiss the idea, but his friends and family were bugging him too, telling him he couldn’t give up on his dream. So, Michael said, “sure, why not, you’re not going to find anything.” To his surprise, those prayers were answered within a couple of months.

“High school doesn’t prepare you for college. In high school, I figured out how to get by. In college, getting by doesn’t work anymore.”

Michael’s pastor connected him to the Dream Come True Foundation. Once he was accepted, The Dream Come True Foundation provided Michael with a stipend allowing him to work part-time. Then they connected him with Capital IDEA to cover his college expenses. Resources were falling into place, but Michael was worried about more than tuition. “My first time, when I went to Abilene, I wasn’t very successful. I didn’t have the support I needed to keep my priorities straight and stay on track.” He needed guidance as well as support, which thankfully, Capital IDEA also provided.

“My Career Navigator helped me with insights into the professors, study habits, all of those things prepared me for success, things I didn’t have the first go around.” College was still difficult, but between his Career Navigator and the community of Capital IDEA students that supported each other with the coursework, he started making real progress. “I don’t think there was one class that I had where there wasn’t a Capital IDEA student.”

Nearing graduation, Michael and the other Capital IDEA students started getting emails about internship opportunities. The one that caught Michael’s eye was at Indeed, the largest job site in the world and one of the biggest tech companies in Austin. “I knew I didn’t have a chance,” he said, but he convinced himself to apply anyway. “I thought I could use the experience of interviewing for a tech job with a big company.” It seemed like a small choice at the time, interviewing for a job he had no hope of getting. “As I was leaving, I asked one of the interviewers how I did. He said, “Well, when we asked about your home network and you didn’t have one, that wasn’t good.”” They’d asked Michael several questions he didn’t know the answer to, but at least now he knew what he could work on.

Michael moved on and did much better at an interview with a small company, when much to his surprise, he got an email from Ron Modesty, Senior Employer Coordinator at Capital IDEA. “I just got off the phone with Indeed. They are preparing to make you an offer.” Another big choice presented itself. Should Michael hold onto the permanent position he’d just accepted at a small company, or take a leap and accept a 16-week internship at Indeed? He chose Indeed. “It was so surreal.”

“My Career Navigator helped me with insights into the professors, study habits, all of those things prepared me for success, things I didn’t have the first go around.”

Showing up at Indeed, “I felt like an impostor and that I didn’t belong there. I thought to myself, I should learn everything I can before they figure me out.” Michael decided he would do anything that was asked of him so as not to miss out on a single opportunity to learn, and his supervisors noticed. The mundane tasks that had turned everyone else off were something new for Michael to learn. His reputation continued to grow, and his peers would come to respect and appreciate his willingness to do anything. This earned him a full-time position with the IT department after the 16-week internship.

When a special project came up that no one else wanted, they approached Michael with it. “Yup, I’ll do it!” He dug in, and as the project grew, so did the opportunities. The project became a new team, Identity and Access Management, and he landed the company’s newly created full-time position.

Indeed restructured and his team moved under Information and Security Department, which continued him down a career path Michael was incredibly excited about. But six years passed, and Michael started to feel like he needed a new challenge. Then, out of the blue, a former co-worker contacted him about an opening at his company for a Cloud Security Engineer. It was incredible opportunity, a dream job, but Michael hesitated. Even after everything he’d learned and accomplished at Indeed, he still felt like an imposter, and he convinced himself that he didn’t have any hope of getting the job. He applied anyway.

Right away, his worse fears were confirmed, he didn’t have the certifications required for the job. But a couple of months later the company reached out again. There was one spot left on the team, and his name kept coming up. His drive and attitude impressed the interview team, and his experience with Identity and Access Management at Indeed was just enough for them to take a chance on him, despite his lack of certifications. He got the job offer, with the caveat that he would get Google Security certified.

“I felt like an impostor and that I didn’t belong there. I thought to myself, I should learn everything I can before they figure me out.”

In May 2022, he accepted the position and title of Cloud Security Engineer. His new salary is in the six figures, almost 200 times as much as he made before he started with Capital IDEA, and there are new challenges galore. He has plenty of room to learn and grow in his new field. His kids have witnessed first-hand the value of investing in an education. “Not only have they seen how it’s increased my pay, but now they know about all these careers available to them.”

Ten years ago, if you had told Michael that he would be working in the tech field making six figures, he wouldn’t have believed it. “I was at the point where I had accepted that my dream of working in tech was not going to happen. But when I think about how long it took to get here, it’s all so amazing.”

Michael’s journey is far from over. He now sits on the board for The Dream Come True Foundation, where he brings an important perspective. “There are times when I get to educate the other board members about how poor people think. There are things that aren’t as important to us because we’re more concerned with things like food and rent. This is why it’s important for people like me to be in these spaces.” Michael also speaks on behalf of Capital IDEA to prospective students at CareerUps and at City Council meetings to help secure funding. He gives a lot of credit to Capital IDEA for his successful career and wants to help spread the word so others can take advantage of the same opportunity. “Through Capital IDEA, I had the support and the community I needed and that was huge.”

“Through Capital IDEA, I had the support and the community I needed and that was huge.”

Despite his self-doubts, Michael made choices, big and small, throughout his journey to get to where he is today. “I always saw myself as an impostor and was afraid someone would find out. It wasn’t until I got this new job that I finally started seeing myself as capable.” He knows there are many people like him who feel the same way and this continues to motivate him. “I need to reach back and bring someone up with me. I want people to know that they belong and deserve to be here. They need to be here, and they have the capability to make it.”

Just like Michael, you have the capability to make it even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. It’s a big choice whether to go back to school or not, but sometimes, making the choice is the hardest part. If you’re ready to make that choice or need more information, let’s talk. You can email our team at outreach@capitalidea.org, or sign up for an information session: LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




By Jeff Sanchez | JUNE 1, 2022

You never know what you’re capable of until your back is against the wall. That’s what it took for Stephanie Berman to realize her full potential. In her thirties, Stephanie fled an abusive marriage with her life and her three children. Thrust into the role of sole provider, she knew she had to do something to support herself and her kids, and through the invitation of a neighbor, she went back to school, where a whole new world opened up to her. She discovered that she was capable of learning new things and succeeding at a professional level.

Stephanie has come a long way from that time in her life. If you met her today, you’d meet Stephanie Berman the proud business owner and advocate for workplace learning, and might never guess how tumultuous her journey has been. Since graduating from Capital IDEA, she has gone on to earn a master’s degree and start her own consulting business, Engagement Through Education, which helps train and prepare caregivers and nurses to be successful in the workforce. She’s confident and passionate about helping others who struggle as she did because she knows how easy it is for people to underestimate their own capabilities. I had the chance to sit down with Stephanie to hear more about her story. Below is the recorded interview broken into eight segments with condensed and edited transcripts under each video.

1. Meet Stephanie Berman, Capital IDEA Graduate

Hi, my name is Stephanie Berman and I got my associate degree in nursing at Austin Community College through the Capital IDEA program and then from there, I went on to get my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree with University of Texas at Arlington via the online version of the program. And currently, right now I am running my own company called Engagement Through Education which offers all different types of engagement for healthcare along with RN delegation that we do, and I also do many things consulting out in the industry for companies such as hospices or leadership teams running assisted livings or nursing homes or anyone who needs any kind of input from the RN perspective for what they’re doing.

2. What was your life like before Capital IDEA?

I was a newly single mom, which happened, unfortunately, due to domestic violence. I had 3 very small kids. At the time, my twins were one, about to turn two, and I had a six-year old. I was a stay-at-home mom at that point, and I knew I had to do something to support them, and I had to figure it out. My life had just fallen apart and turned upside down, and fortunately, my neighbor came to me and told me she was going to nursing school, and through teary eyes, I was like, ok.

3. What obstacles prevented you from going to college?

For myself, and for many other single moms I’ve talked to who are going to nursing school, I had no idea I could actually, learn. I really didn’t. I knew I wasn’t dumb, I was smart, but to actually, formally, learn something, and to become licensed at something and become an actual expert in it, I didn’t know I had the ability in me to do that. I knew I was a great mom. I knew I could figure out how to navigate that, and how to do things for them, but to actually, formally do something, I didn’t know. And then the thought of going back to school and back to work, what was I going to do with my kids? That played a big role in any choices I was making.

4. What was it like getting started?

Honestly, when that neighbor came and said, go with me to nursing school. I like to tell the funniest story. When I went to Austin Community College, and I was sitting there, there was a young guy at the registration desk, and I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew I needed to do something. When I’m sitting there and doing the registration, I’m sobbing and telling him my whole life story, and he just looked at me with this stare like, “uh, yeah, ma’am,” and he just pushed the paperwork at me, “I just need you to fill this out here.” So, I thought, ok, it was like a shock. And it made me think, ok, you can either be a victim your whole life, or you can change the story of what’s happened to you. You are going to be the only person who is able to do that. So, while there are people to help you along the way, you are going to have to take the steps.

5. What was it like going back to school?

So I had to fill out the forms, and then there were all the entrance tests I had to take, like reading and math. I thought to myself, oh this isn’t going to be good. When I went to high school I was just there for my friends. We had a great time, we only had to have a D to pass and graduate, and there was no expectation beyond that. So I met the minimum expectation. That’s why I knew taking those placement tests, it wasn’t going to be good. I was ok with reading and writing, but for math, they were expecting a lot, and I was nowhere near that. I had to start at the bottom when it came to math. One of the first classes I took was Anatomy and Physiology. In that class, the professor gave a test every day, and I remember when I got back the results of the first test I took. I’ll never forget it. I looked at it and it said, A+. I had no idea I could learn! I thought to myself, I just did this with three small kids, I was in the middle of a nasty divorce, I was trying to survive, and somehow I was able to get a 100 on a test! That was my moment where I realized I could actually do this.

6. What was the most meaningful support service you received?

The most meaningful support I received from Capital IDEA was everything. And when I say everything, I mean absolutely everything. There were the books, the scrubs, the stethoscope, the shoes, the scissors. I was better equipped than those who had the resources that they needed. There was not a study guide, or a test class, or anything additional that I needed, that Capital IDEA didn’t meet with a resource. The practical stuff from food to a Thanksgiving dinner, to helping me find resources outside even of what Capital IDEA could do, in order to keep me going. Like removing every obstacle so I could keep going on my journey to becoming a nurse.

7. What advice would you give prospective students?

Here’s the advice I would give to somebody hesitant to go back to school. Is it because you think you can’t learn or you can’t do it? This is the time to take the chance. With the support of someone or something like Capital IDEA, because there is going to be someone at Capital IDEA who will make an impact and then that something is that machine at Capital IDEA behind you to be able to use all the resources. So, if there’s a time to be successful, this is the time to be successful. Don’t doubt yourself. You can do more than you’ve ever thought possible. You can do more for yourself and for your family. And in a year from now, you’ll be so happy that you’re a year closer to whatever goal it is that you want to be. Whether it’s a nurse, mechanic, CNA, electrician. It doesn’t matter what it is. You’ll be happy you took that step. For me, this has been very true. In education, whether it’s a formal education or somebody just inputting into my life. Knowledge, it gave me options, and everybody does better when you have options and when you have choices. And that’s what you want to create for yourself. A life where you have options and choices of what you can do.

8. What advice would you give to graduate nurses entering the workforce?

There is not going to be a perfect place to take care of people. That’s the bottom line. There are going to be a lot of great places to go and care for them. Whether you’re doing it in the hospital or you’re doing it in the post-acute, you’re doing it at home. You could be doing it in all types of services to take care of people. The most impactful thing that you’re going to be able to do is to care for people. And to input into their lives. Because you’re not just going to be able to touch their lives, you’re going to be able to reach everyone’s life around them. Don’t lose sight of that because that’s really easy to do. The other thing I would say is that complaining about anything when it comes to taking care of people, even if it’s the situation of the environment where you’re taking care of them, doing any kind of complaining, don’t be the complainer be the problem solver. When I wanted to do this company it’s because I saw a problem and I knew I could fix it. Even if you’re not the type of person to start a business, you don’t have to be that person, but you can talk to people about solutions. That’s what everybody wants. They want solutions. How can we make this better, and what can we do? If you get frustrated, that’s just sitting down with a fellow nurse with a good cup of coffee, maybe a little glass of wine, and being able to talk that out, and talk about how you can fix and solve that. There are so many people just right here, in Texas alone, there are so many people who are vested in helping you all do the very best job you can as nurses. You’ve got this!


At Capital IDEA, we provide services and support to remove obstacles keeping individuals from realizing their potential and career goals. If you are feeling held back due to circumstances in your life, let’s talk. You can email our team at outreach@capitalidea.org, or sign up for an information session: LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 | outreach@capitalidea.org | Ask a Question »
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




Pictured left: Estrella Saldana; top right: Estrella and her parents; bottom right: Estrella and her Career Navigator, Tonia Gooden

By Jeff Sanchez | MAY 19, 2022

One of Estrella Saldana’s earliest memories is of bringing in groceries from the car. Her mom would place one small item in a grocery bag and let her drag it into the house (she was too little to carry it). She absolutely loved it. From that young age, Estrella knew that helping others made her happy. As she grew, Estrella’s desire to help grew too, and by the time she graduated high school, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. “Nursing was a great way to give back and help. My heart was calling me to nursing.”

No one in Estrella’s family had experience with going to college. This meant no one in her family could help her navigate the complexities of college enrollment, and she didn’t know anything about grants, scholarships, or where to get help financially. So, she enrolled in classes at Austin Community College (ACC) and planned to work a full-time job to pay for tuition and her expenses. Unfortunately, the program she wanted to get into had a two-year waiting list. Estrella did not want to wait, so, she searched for an alternative.

She thought she had found the perfect solution, but little did she know the trouble ahead. She enrolled in a for-profit school whose class schedule worked with her work schedule, and they promised her she would be able to complete the program faster. It was expensive, but through the student loans they helped her apply for and a full-time job, she could pay for the program. Unfortunately, the school went bankrupt, lost its accreditation, and closed shop before Estrella could complete the program. Not only was she on the hook for her loans, but the credits she earned at this school wouldn’t transfer anywhere. She was left with no credentials, a mountain of debt, and her dream of becoming a nurse seemed to be slipping away.

“Nursing was a great way to give back and help. My heart was calling me to nursing.”

She felt defeated. The long drives to the campus and the sleep-deprived days of balancing work and school had left her with nothing to show for it. Chasing her dream was becoming increasingly difficult. So, if she couldn’t become a nurse, Estrella figured she would get a job in the healthcare industry. She was a hard worker and worked her way up from a research technician to a project manager assistant at a pharmaceutical company. She earned a decent wage and was able to take ownership of her childhood home that her parents passed down to her. Life was coming together, but her dream of becoming a nurse was still tugging at her, and she began saving up for college once more.

Then, in a twist of fate, Estrella came home after working a late-night shift to a shocking discovery. A tornado had come through and destroyed her house! “Everything was wet, and I lost everything. I lost my house. I felt like all my dreams, and everything I worked for was gone.” As she slowly figured out how to recover from this devastating loss, she realized, “I can’t go to school right now. I’ll have to put my dreams to the side again.”

But Estrella just couldn’t shake the desire to become a nurse. “I wanted to be a role model. I wanted to help people. I knew I wanted more, and I wanted my parents to be proud.” She tried going back to school on her own dime again, but she came to a crossroads. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to go to school and continue working full time, so I had to pick one, and that’s when Capital IDEA came and rescued me.”

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to go to school and continue working full time, so I had to pick one, and that’s when Capital IDEA came and rescued me.”

It just so happened one of her co-workers was a nursing student at ACC. She told Estrella that Capital IDEA was paying for her tuition, textbooks, and other school expenses. This sounded too good to be true, but Estrella took the chance, applied, and got accepted, and it turned out to be one of her best decisions. “Going back to school with Capital IDEA supporting me was amazing! I finally felt like I had the resources I needed.” The financial support was a huge weight lifted off Estrella’s shoulders, and her Career Navigator, Tonia, was nothing short of amazing. “She would check up on me, making sure I was doing ok. Just having someone that understood, having someone to relate to and talk to about things like deadlines and credits was so helpful.”

As graduation approached, Estrella worked with Capital IDEA Senior Employment Coordinator Ron Modesty, who reviewed her resume, prepared her for interviews, guided her job search, and even helped her with negotiating! “When I was getting multiple job offers, I didn’t know what to do, so I called Ron! He advised me on how to handle negotiations with them and get the best deal possible.”

On November 1, 2021, Estrella started her dream job as a Licensed Vocational Nurse at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas in the Digestive Health department. “It’s been so much fun. I love to learn, and I’m learning so many new things.” And now, she’s looking to expand her dream. “I want to work towards becoming a Physician’s Assistant, and who knows, if things work out, maybe become an MD someday.”

“I hope you find the resilience to keep going. You are capable of everything, even though it feels overwhelming. You are worthy of a bright future.”

Estrella went through a lot on her way to getting her dream job. She encourages aspiring students to take a leap of faith, believe in themselves, and dream big. “I hope you find the resilience to keep going. You are capable of everything, even though it feels overwhelming. You are worthy of a bright future.”

At Capital IDEA, we share Estrella’s belief that everyone is worthy of a bright future, and we’d like to help you achieve yours. If you are feeling held back due to a lack of guidance and resources, let’s talk. You can email our team at outreach@capitalidea.org, or sign up for an information session: LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




APRIL 8, 2022

Below is a transcript of Gabrielle’s Aurora Alworth Award acceptance speech at the 2022 Celebration of Achievements held virtually on March 1, 2022. Watch the slide presentation and listen to her speech here: YouTube Event Recording »


Good afternoon, friends:

My name is Gabrielle Michelle Shepherd, and I am a Registered Nurse and a 2021 Austin Community College graduate. I am so excited to receive the Aurora Alworth Spirit award because it reminds me of how much I have overcome and achieved. I know that none of that would have been possible without the support of my family, Austin Can Academy, Capital IDEA, and most importantly, my faith in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

By the Grace of God, I overcame abuse and an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Growing up was a traumatic experience. My childhood included an unstable home environment filled with arguing and neglect. I experienced many forms of abuse at the hands of other family members, and all of this led to a lack of self-respect for myself and any sort of hope for a happy life. Then things got even more difficult.

At age 15, I took a pregnancy test, and it was positive. Add to that, my boyfriend of two years, the father of my child, split, and it was time for me to grow up. My mother enrolled me in Austin Can Academy to get my life together. Even though I was technically a sophomore going in, I had only earned two credits from my previous school because I was skipping school, getting high with my friends, and dealing dope with my ex-boyfriend. At Austin Can Academy, I had no choice but to get my crap together.

That first year as a pregnant teenager, I had little to no friends and pretty much stayed to myself and did my work. I was doing well, and about two years later, my old ways sucked me back in. I was about 17 when my addiction to marijuana and other hard substances, coupled with the stress of being a single mom, led to me dropping out of school. This was not the life I had hoped for. I wanted more for myself and my daughter. I wanted to graduate high school, and I wanted to make my parents proud.

“This was not the life I had hoped for. I wanted more for myself and my daughter. I wanted to graduate high school, and I wanted to make my parents proud.”

A few months after I dropped out, I resolved that I would make it. I had to, not only for me but for my daughter. My mother took me back to Austin Can Academy, and to my surprise, I had 16 credits! I only needed eight credits to graduate, and even though I wasn’t a perfect student, I tried my best. The good news was that I wasn’t alone. Through programs offered at Navarro High School for teen moms and after-school evening classes, I earned my high school diploma at 19!

At this point in the story, I wish I could say that after receiving my diploma, my fairy Godmother appeared, and everything fell into place, but that would be a lie. That same year, I met my future husband. We moved in together, and I started working at a cell phone store. Unfortunately, we both had baggage and pain from our childhood and struggled with our own addictions. He drank, I smoked, and we fought all the time. It was abusive and toxic, and as a result, we also had two miscarriages.

In 2012, two years after I graduated high school, my sister invited me to a church program called Celebrate Recovery. This is a free program available to anyone seeking recovery from addiction. I attended their meetings, and I learned more about addiction and how it affects people in all areas of their lives. I was now pregnant with my second child, and I decided to try and get sober with the help of a CR support group and their 12-step program.

Years later, in 2015, while I was still in the CR program, I met a young woman at my church, and we began to talk. I shared with her my dream of becoming a nurse, and she recommended that I look up a program called Capital IDEA. She said they were currently paying for her education at Austin Community College! It sounded too good to be true. I thought to myself, how am I going to go back to school after all these years, and now I have three kids?

“I thought to myself, how am I going to go back to school after all these years, and now I have three kids?”

Following this encounter, I remember attending a women’s conference, and the guest speaker spoke about living in “the land of milk and honey.” She said that before we could make it to our own “land of milk and honey,” we must first face our fears. Then she posed these questions: what is your land of milk and honey, and what are you afraid of?

I realized that the first step to getting to my “land of milk and honey” was attending an orientation session at Capital IDEA and learning more about their programs. Much to my dismay, they did not have funding that year for childcare, and they recommended that I try again in the future. I admit that I was discouraged, but I didn’t lose hope! I had a relationship with the Lord and a support system that continued to spur me on. I thought to myself, “that’s ok, maybe it’s not the right season…” but I had a resolve within me; I will go back to school, and I will be a nurse! Of course, I had other thoughts, like “but what if I fail? But what if I don’t make it? But what if I’m not smart enough? What if I’m not good enough? The list goes on and on.

Despite all my fears, I thought, “I must try. If I don’t try and reach my dreams, I will not die in peace!!” It sounds funny (and a bit dramatic looking back at it now), but it’s true! The thought of becoming old and gray and not even trying to reach my goal in life made me so sad.

In 2016, I attended another Capital IDEA info session, and by the Grace of God, they had funding for childcare! At this point in my life, I lived in my mom’s house with my husband, our three kids, my sister, her husband, and their four kids (it was crazy and chaotic, literally). I spoke to my husband and my mom, and they encouraged me to give it a go. I applied and qualified for their program and began school after seven long years in the Spring of 2017.

I was not alone on this journey. I had a Career Navigator that held my hand every step of the way. They believed in me. They told me what to do, who to speak with, which classes to apply for, and more. Since Capital IDEA was paying for mostly everything, I could keep the money I got through financial aid. It really did seem too good to be true, but it wasn’t, and my dream of being a college student was coming true. And as much as I’d love to tell you that now my fairy Godmother came and finally made life easy, that would be a lie too.

“I was not alone on this journey. I had a Career Navigator that held my hand every step of the way. They believed in me.”

College wasn’t easy. I was never a great high school student, and college was even more challenging. I didn’t pass every semester, and I didn’t get straight A’s. I had many setbacks: I lost my beloved dog, Cha-Cha, I had another kid, and I was diagnosed with PTSD from all of my childhood trauma. With obstacles piling up, it was hard not to get discouraged, so it became more and more important for me to prioritize. I had to be intentional every single day about making the right decisions for myself and my future. I attended church and my Celebrate Recovery groups, focused on my studies, stayed true to my sobriety, and built up my support system. And it paid off.

On December 13, 2021, I graduated with my Associate’s Degree in Nursing. On February 7th, I started my dream job as a Medical Surgical Nurse on the 5th floor of Seton Main, one of the Largest Hospitals in Austin, TX! My dream had come true! As I sit back and reflect on my life, I can remember when I was a student in high school, and I never dreamed that I would ever make it this far. I used to be a troubled teen who couldn’t seem to get it together, and my parents were far from proud. And now, my entire family is proud of me.

I am so grateful to everyone who supported me along the way because I know that I couldn’t have done this alone. I want to thank my family, especially my mom, my husband, Santiago Valle, and my kids, Abigail, Joshua, Katherine, and Santiago Santamaria. They all had to sacrifice so much for me to get where I am, and without their support at home, I don’t know how I would’ve done this.

I’m also so grateful for Austin Can Academy, which gave me a second chance at getting a high school diploma. Then my Celebrate Recovery family ultimately gave me the strength and courage to participate in the beautiful and life-giving program of Capital IDEA. Capital IDEA provided me with financial and emotional support as I continued this long and arduous journey. They gave me an opportunity to step out of poverty and transform my future and the lives of my family forever.

Think about that for a moment, my destiny was forever changed because of the opportunity they provided!

“Capital IDEA provided me with financial and emotional support as I continued this long and arduous journey. They gave me an opportunity to step out of poverty and transform my future and the lives of my family forever.”

And it’s because of that opportunity I can do something I love and am passionate about, which is helping others. As a nurse, I’ll have the chance to help others at the hospital. I was also recently invited to speak at my old school, Austin Can Academy, where I shared my story with other students, hopefully inspiring them to pursue their dreams. And I want to do more! In the future, I’d like to be a part of a program or help create programs for individuals who need assistance with affording healthcare and also programs for behavioral health issues like recovering from addiction. I’m not sure what it will all look like, but my goal is to use everything I have learned, and will learn, in the nursing field to help others, just like so many have helped me.

I’m receiving this award not because I did anything by myself. It’s because of all the people who helped me get here. If I could go back and speak to myself at a young age, I would say, “Hey you, you are doing the best you can. Hold your head up high and never give up. Don’t be afraid to own your mistakes and take responsibility for your own actions. Then, find a group of people who are willing to do life with you and support you.” That’s the message I want to leave you with today. Thank you.


Going to college can be a challenge, but you don’t have to do it alone. Sign up for an info session to learn more about the extensive support you can receive through the Career Expressway program. LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




From Left: Alyssia Palacios-Woods, Eva Rios-Lleverino, and Steve Jackobs.

MARCH 30, 2022

Contact: Amy Silvey, Director of Development and Communications
512-485-9353, asilvey@capitalidea.org

Upcoming Transitions at Capital IDEA

  • Capital IDEA announces Alyssia Palacios-Woods as its new Executive Director, effective July 1.
  • Founding Executive Director, Steve Jackobs, is stepping down on March 31 to devote himself to running for Austin Community College’s Board of Trustees.
  • Eva Rios-Lleverino, who has been with Capital IDEA for 23 years, will serve as the Interim Executive Director from April 1 to June 30, 2022.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – March 30, 2022

Capital IDEA has named Alyssia Palacios-Woods its new Executive Director, effective July 1, 2022. Ms. Palacios-Woods has more than a decade of experience in nonprofit leadership, including her two current roles as President & CEO of Austin Young Chamber and Vice-Chair of Capital IDEA’s Board of Directors. In her five years at Austin Young Chamber, Ms. Palacios-Woods forged strategic partnerships across the region, connecting businesses, government entities, institutions of higher education, and nonprofits to drive significant workforce impact. She is currently an ex-officio member of the Austin Chamber’s Board of Directors. In 2020, she was an Inaugural Mentee of Color with The New Philanthropists and served on the Opening Central Texas for Business Task Force. Her years of highly relevant experience, her track record of effectiveness, and her commitment to innovation and diversity earned her unanimous approval from Capital IDEA’s Board of Directors in a formal vote on March 25.

Ms. Palacios-Woods will assume leadership from founding Executive Director Steve Jackobs, who has been with Capital IDEA since its inception in 1998. Mr. Jackobs, who announced his retirement in January, is leaving the organization three months earlier than planned to devote himself to running for Austin Community College’s Board of Trustees. Under his leadership, Capital IDEA has helped more than 2,000 low-income Central Texans to obtain an education in the fastest-growing fields, such as healthcare, information technology, and skilled trades.

Eva Rios-Lleverino has been with Capital IDEA since its launch in 1998. As Capital IDEA’s Deputy Executive Director, she plays an instrumental role in leading the organization’s programmatic operations and administration and is poised to support Capital IDEA through this transition.

About Capital IDEA

Capital IDEA serves the community by acting as a bridge, connecting committed yet underemployed people to employers in need of highly skilled workers. Capital IDEA funds participants’ tuition, books, and childcare and works with them to find employment with good salaries, benefits, and career growth opportunities.

Established in 1998 through the efforts of Central Texas Interfaith (formerly Austin Interfaith) and the local business community, Capital IDEA lifts working families out of poverty by sponsoring educational services that lead to life-long financial stability.

To date, more than 2,000 participants have entered career employment in high-demand occupations, including nursing and other healthcare occupations, high tech, and professional trades. The average starting earnings of participants entering employment in the last 12 months is $25.00/hr. More than 900 participants are currently in training or are receiving post-placement services. Half aspire to careers in nursing.

Download: Press Release – ED Announcements – 3-2022 (PDF)


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




Hammurabi (left) sits down with Capital IDEA alum Heriberto Gonzales (right).

By Jeff Sanchez | MARCH 15, 2022

Hammurabi Bueno doesn’t like sitting still. Landing a desk job was never a dream of his. “I’m a person that likes to be hands-on and build things.” Of the many careers sponsored by Capital IDEA, power technology seemed like the natural fit for someone like him. “I have always been interested in electrical things and putting things together.” As a power technician, he could be traveling around, physically active, working in the electronics field that captured his interest, and still earning a great salary, provided he had the right degree.  But even knowing that opportunities existed, Hammurabi still hesitated to go directly to college out of high school.

Hammurabi was the middle child. He grew up in a household with a single mother and two sisters and placed a high value on helping his family financially. That led to him working at a local grocery store as a stocker in high school. After graduating from Lanier High School in 2016, he continued to work at the store not knowing if or when college would be in his future. His mom always believed in the value of education but knew it would be difficult. “My mom was a single mom with three kids. It would be costly to send the three of us to college.” So, Hammurabi chose to keep working.

“I’m a person that likes to be hands-on and build things.”

Six months later, things changed. Hammurabi knew he had to try to go to college if he wanted to make enough money for himself and his family. Thankfully, he remembered a presentation at his high school about a program called Capital IDEA. This program would help him go to college for free, which was exactly what he needed. He attended an information session, applied, and got accepted into Capital IDEA’s Career Expressway program.

Hammurabi continued helping his family by keeping his full-time job at the grocery store while enrolling in college full-time as well. Even though he’d done well in high school, college proved to be more stressful. Between a full-time job and demanding courses, balancing everything became too much. “Halfway through my degree, keeping up with my studies and work became an issue. I didn’t have any time to myself.” He had a tough choice to make, should he prioritize school or work? Hammurabi chose school, left his job, and flew through the rest of his degree program, graduating with his associate of applied science in Power Electric Utility Technologies in two years.

“Having free tuition really helped my mom, and I am grateful for that.”

After graduation, Hammurabi set out on his first professional job hunt. He was qualified and ready but finding an entry-level position in the power technology field proved difficult. Thankfully, the Career Expressway program included job placement assistance. Capital IDEA’s Employment Coordinator, Ron Modesty helped Hammurabi with resume building and finding leads, and Suzanne Baker, Capital IDEA Alumni and Student Engagement Coordinator, connected him with alum, Heriberto Gonzalez. Heriberto was coming up on two decades of experience in the power technology field, and he sat down with Hammurabi (pictured above) to offer him advice and encouragement including tips on where to look for jobs and which ones to take. A few months later, Hammurabi landed a job with Lonestar Communications.

Today, Hammurabi is moving up at Lonestar. After two years at the company, he is now a Lead Technician responsible for training others to pull cable in hospitals and schools for their PA and intercom systems. He is also a part of a career ladder program the company just started that offers classes for individuals who want to move up the ranks. His goal is to “grow as much as I can and move up within the company,” but if his opportunities dry up there, “I’ll find a company where I can advance further,” he says. Because, again, Hammurabi is not one to sit still.

“At least try it out because if you want a good career, college is there to help you get it. There’s always a way to fix any issues that come up.”

As Hammurabi continues to move forward in his career, he’s still thinking of his family. When asked what was most meaningful about the support he got from Capital IDEA, he notes. “Having free tuition really helped my mom, and I am grateful for that.” The degree he earned has opened doors, and he can see that it’s leading him towards a brighter future, which is why he advises anyone unsure or hesitant about going to college to “at least try it out because if you want a good career, college is there to help you get it. There’s always a way to fix any issues that come up.”

Are you someone who is hesitant about going to college? Sometimes you just need to try it out. You have nothing to lose and an excellent career to gain. Sign up for an info session to learn more about our career offerings. LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




FEBRUARY 21, 2022

BIG NEWS — Residents of Travis County and/or City of Austin have until September 2022 to qualify under our NEW income guidelines and secure their seats in our Career Expressway program. The Career Expressway offers full tuition assistance, textbooks, and more. Residents who apply and get accepted during this temporary extension period will continue to be eligible even after it expires. Once enrolled, you will not need to reapply or reconfirm your eligibility. You will get to choose from a number of excellent degree programs and your entire college education will be completely FREE to you. Capital IDEA will provide career guidance and financial assistance every semester through to your graduation and job placement:

● We will pay your full tuition each semester, purchase your textbooks, and pay for miscellaneous fees including required tools and uniforms.

● We’ll also offer childcare assistance to parents.

● Once you’ve earned your degree, we’ll guide you in your job search and help you land your dream job. It’s our mission is to get you into a new career, and we’ll be with you until you’ve accepted a good job offer!

Share on Facebook »

How much have our income guidelines changed?

Previously, the maximum income an applicant could make was based on 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. For a family of four, monthly income was capped at $4,625 a month. Under our expanded income guidelines, the income cap is 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. A family of four can now earn up to $5,781 a month. Use the chart below to find out what your maximum income is based on your household size. Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility,  Sign up for a CareerUp information session. We’ll cover everything you need to know about how to get your FREE degree through our Career Expressway program!

CHART: Expanded Income Eligibility for Travis County by Household Size

Household Size Monthly Household Income
Travis County / City of Austin Max Income 250% of
Federal Poverty Guidelines
1 $2,831
2 $3,815
3 $4,798
4 $5,781
5 $6,765
6 $7,748
7 $8,731
8 $9,715


For a full list of qualifications, please visit: Qualifications »
To get started, sign up for a CareerUp information session:


FAQ: Why is this program FREE?
We’re a nonprofit with a mission to get our Central Texas neighbors into great careers. Each year, Capital IDEA raises enough money to pay for tuition and textbooks for over 800 adults, like you! If you’re eligible for our program, your tuition and textbooks are already paid for by the generous support of our funders, including the City of Austin, Travis County, and St. David’s Foundation. Get started with your FREE education —

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




JANUARY 13, 2022

Contact: Amy Silvey, Director of Development and Communications
512-485-9353, asilvey@capitalidea.org

Capital IDEA announces the retirement of founding Executive Director, Steve Jackobs

AUSTIN, TEXAS – JANUARY 13, 2022 – After serving as Capital IDEA’s Executive Director since 1998, Steve Jackobs announced his plan to retire in August of this year.

“After more than 23 years, and as I turn 65 in August, 2022 is the right time for me to pass on the leadership of Capital IDEA. I am proud and honored to have served as Capital IDEA’s Executive Director since its founding. It is my bedrock faith that we solve problems with win-win solutions. Capital IDEA proves that bringing together businesses that need skilled workers and our neighbors who need good careers is a win-win. Moreover, I stand in awe of our students’ grit and resolve as they work and study hard to create better lives for themselves and their families. I am inspired to see our graduates’ children follow their parents’ examples and succeed in their own education.”

“Capital IDEA has been fortunate to have such a committed, passionate, and steadfast servant leader since its inception.”

During his stewardship, Capital IDEA has so far placed 2,000 low-income Central Texans into new high-paying careers, primarily in nursing, other health care careers, tech, and the trades. Capital IDEA and Steve have received numerous awards over the years, including multiple Greater Austin Chamber Business Awards, First Tee Austin Robert T. Hughes Philanthropic Leader, Liveable City Vision Award, Ethics in Business, Bank of America Neighborhood Builder, Greenlights for NonProfit Success Collaboration Award, CommunityTechKnowledge, Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year, and the Dream Come True Foundation Lifetime Achievement. Capital IDEA will be featured in an upcoming book, Growing Fairly/How to Build Opportunity and Equity in Workforce Development, by former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and Kate Coleman.

Board Chair, Rev Paul Skeith, shared, “Central Texas invests local funds in the careers and futures of its low-income neighbors. Capital IDEA has been fortunate to have such a committed, passionate, and steadfast servant leader since its inception. We thank Steve for his legacy, and the board aims to find someone of equal passion and inspiration to continue to help families and local businesses flourish.”

About Capital IDEA
Capital IDEA serves the community by acting as a bridge, connecting committed, yet underemployed people to employers in need of highly skilled workers. Capital IDEA funds participants’ tuition, books, and childcare and works with them to find employment with good salaries, benefits, and career growth opportunities.

Established in 1998 through the efforts of Central Texas Interfaith (formerly Austin Interfaith) and the local business community, Capital IDEA lifts working families out of poverty by sponsoring educational services that lead to life-long financial stability.

To date, more than 2,000 participants have entered career employment in high-demand occupations, including nursing and other healthcare occupations, high tech, and professional trades. The average starting earnings of participants entering employment in the last 12 months is $25.00/hr. More than 900 participants are currently in training or are receiving post-placement services. Half aspire to careers in nursing.

Download Press Release (PDF)

SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




“Capital IDEA makes individuals stronger so that they can do the work that makes our community stronger.” – Stephanie Mbulu

By Jeff Sanchez | DECEMBER 7, 2021

From early on, Stephanie Mbulu had the heart to help others. “My mother would joke that I came out of the womb wanting to help people,” but it wasn’t until the second grade, when her mother was in a car accident, that her desire to help would become a calling. That experience, and the care her family received from the nurses, was imprinted on her heart, and “I knew then that God had instilled in me this desire to be a nurse,” but the road to get there took many twists and turns.

Right after high school, Stephanie enrolled in college with her sights set on nursing school. In her first semester, she started dating someone and found out she was pregnant shortly before the relationship turned sour. It escalated into a physically abusive relationship, and she realized she had to get out before it was too late. When she turned to her family, the bedrock of support she thought she could always rely on, they gave her an ultimatum.

“I’m Nigerian. I grew up in an African household with immigrant parents who came to this country to get an education and work hard for their family.” Stephanie’s family is steeped in cultural values. One of these values is a priority for women to get married. Having a child out of wedlock was considered hugely disrespectful to her mother and the family. She had a choice. Give up her child before he was born or lose the support of her family. She chose her child, a son she named Kamani, and mother and son were left alone to fend for themselves.

“My mother would joke that I came out of the womb wanting to help people.”

Stephanie left community college to earn her credentials as a Medical Assistant, which was as close to her dream of being a nurse as she could get under the circumstances. In her new job, she worked tirelessly to provide for her child, making the best of the unexpected twists her life had taken. Little did she know, an opportunity was about to present itself that would change her life.

“I was working at an OBGYN clinic when I met a nurse who was a Capital IDEA graduate. She knew I wanted to pursue nursing and told me to check out the program. To be honest, Capital IDEA sounded too good to be true, but after attending an information meeting, I realized that they were the real deal.” After going through the application process, Stephanie was accepted into the Career Expressway program. She now had the support system she needed to make her dreams come true. “When I got accepted, it was such a big sigh of relief. And now I believed I could do this. Now I believed I could go all the way and get my nursing degree.”

Even with Capital IDEA’s support, Stephanie knew it would take a lot of hard work and sacrifice to finish nursing school. Without family to rely on, Stephanie had to get creative with childcare. “For single moms, you have to come up with a plan. Without the help of my family, I relied a lot on my friends. One would say they could only watch him till 11:00 am, and another would say they could pick him up and watch them until 3:00 pm. So I would pick him up at 3:30 after clinicals. And each day of the week, I had to make a different plan, but I was determined to do this.”

“To be honest, Capital IDEA sounded too good to be true, but after attending an information meeting, I realized that they were the real deal.”

Little to no sleep became routine for Stephanie during this time. After putting her son to bed, she would stay up late to finish her studying and schoolwork. But all that sacrifice and hard work paid off when she graduated with her Associate’s Degree. She even managed to pass the NCLEX,  the notoriously difficult nurse licensing exam, on the first try! And shortly thereafter, “it was like a dream come true” when she was hired at Ascension Seton Medical Center Main as an Operating Room Circulating Nurse.

Graduation meant more for Stephanie than just a degree. It meant a better job and a better life for her and her son, who is now eleven years old. And it presented an opportunity for reconciliation with some of her family when they saw everything she had accomplished. Just as life was heading in the right direction, Stephanie’s faith and resolve were tested once again.

About a year into her new job, a pandemic swept across the globe, upending life in a way most people had never experienced. By March of 2020, COVID-19 had become so widespread in the United States it was shutting down businesses and overwhelming hospitals. “It was frightening, especially being a new nurse. It felt like the world was on my shoulders, a very trying time. I worked more hours and days than normal, and in a very short time, I got burned out.” Her front-line work meant she had to distance herself from her son. “Kamani has asthma. I didn’t get to see him except through FaceTime. Being away from your child for almost two months is not a very good feeling at all.” As testing improved and vaccines became available, Stephanie reunited with her son, still maintaining strict cleaning protocols. “I used the same type of wipes we use at work to wipe down everything! I wiped shoes, the car, the shower, everything! The entire year he managed to be safe, and all of that couldn’t have been done without God.”

“I worked hard to make my dreams come true, and I want to be a guide to others. I gave my brother the motivation to go to medical school, and I have set a different standard with my family.”

Through it all, helping others continued to be a hallmark of who Stephanie is, whether she’s serving as a nurse or a role model. “I worked hard to make my dreams come true, and I want to be a guide to others. I gave my brother the motivation to go to medical school, and I have set a different standard with my family.”

Today, Stephanie continues to love her career as a nurse, and despite the pandemic, she knows she’s in the right career. “This was a very trying time, but in retrospect, it has been very rewarding. We got to be there and help people feel better and reassure people who had to come in for essential surgeries that they would be safe and taken care of.” And even though conditions continue to improve, nurses are still feeling the strain. “It’s so vital that we get more nurses trained and out in the field. Currently, nurses are working overtime, switching shifts, floated to other units, and are getting burned out. We need help!” This help cannot arrive soon enough for nurses like Stephanie. “New nurses coming in are going to be nervous and scared, but we’re here to support them.”

TIP: You can graduate two years earlier if you don’t wait two years to start.

Capital IDEA is currently supporting hundreds of future nurses just like we supported Stephanie, and we have room for even more. From acceptance to graduation, we guide students through training and education in essential fields like healthcare, technology, and trades, so that they can fill a critical need in our community for caring and skilled professionals. If you’re ready for a new career and could make good use of a FREE education, we invite you to LEARN MORE »

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




By Jeff Sanchez | NOVEMBER 3, 2021

It takes incredible strength to start over and build a new life. Khaibar Rahimy and his family emigrated from Afghanistan about four and a half years ago. In Afghanistan, he was a degreed professional, a civil engineer. His skills allowed him to work with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and his work as an ally gave him the opportunity to move to the U.S. on a special visa with his family.

Moving to the U.S. was a bit of a mixed bag for Khaibar. On the one hand, the move provided safety and security for his family and better opportunities for his kids. On the other, it wasn’t easy to start over. Even though he had the experience and a degree as an engineer, the U.S. does not fully recognize degrees and credentials from many other countries. This meant Khaibar was technically not qualified to be an engineer in his new home country. If he wanted to re-enter his field, he’d have to re-earn his credentials.

“I was living with no purpose and no aim. I was just passing the time feeling like I had lost something.”

Starting over can be a debilitating endeavor for many people. Khaibar was used to the work and title of a civil engineer. His expertise was once considered valuable by the United States Army and others in his home country. And now, without the validation of his credentials, he had to take a low-paying job as a security guard to make ends meet for his family. This brought Khaibar to a low point in his life. “I was living with no purpose and no aim. I was just passing the time feeling like I had lost something.”

Fortunately for Khaibar, through Caritas of Austin, the organization that helped his family resettle in the United States, he was introduced to Capital IDEA. “When I heard about Capital IDEA, I found the motivation to get my degree because I knew it would give me more opportunities in life not only to support my family but also to improve my education.” Working full-time as a security guard provided barely enough for his family, so paying for college was out of the question. Capital IDEA paid for Khaibar’s tuition and textbooks so he could earn his degree. But Khaibar needed more than financial support.

“It was hard at first going to school. My English was weak,” Khaibar says, but his Career Navigator, Suzanne Baker, helped to enroll him in the English as a Second Language classes (ESL). “Suzanne gave me the motivation I needed. She gave me hope with ESL classes and helping me take care of all the forms I needed.” With Capital IDEA’s support in place, the rest was up to Khaibar.

It wasn’t easy. “For a long time, I was very sleepless.” He worked an overnight, eight-hour shift as a security guard, getting off at 7 am. He got about two to three hours of sleep, and then he woke up to help his family get their day started, driving them to appointments and running errands. On a good day, he would catch an extra hour or two of sleep before heading off to class, and somewhere in between, he managed to stay caught up with his homework.

“If I were by myself, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my goal. Capital IDEA advisors gave me the hope that I wasn’t alone.”

The sleeplessness paid off. Khaibar graduated with his Associate’s Degree in Computer Aided Design(CAD) – Civil Specialization, from Austin Community College. “Now I sleep eight hours every night!” He landed a job at Bleyl Engineering and is working towards his Master’s Degree at the University of Texas in San Antonio. His new job affords him the ability to provide for his family financially, and his new sleep schedule allows him to be less tired and more present for them.

Starting over wasn’t easy for Khaibar. When asked what was most meaningful about the support he received from Capital IDEA, he responded: “If I were by myself, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my goal. Capital IDEA advisors gave me the hope that I wasn’t alone. They helped me, and they called to check on me. No matter how difficult it got, I knew I wasn’t alone.”

Are you starting over? You don’t need to do it alone. With the support from Capital IDEA you can overcome the obstacles preventing you from earning your degree and getting the job you’ve always wanted. Sign up for an info session today.

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




By Jeff Sanchez | OCTOBER 4, 2021

Support Spotlight Series

In this final installment of the Support Spotlight Series, we feature the career placement services at Capital IDEA.

Many of the adults who come through Capital IDEA have, at one point or another, had their doubts about getting a college education. It can feel risky to invest so much time and money in education when there’s a big question hanging in the air – will this degree get me a job? This is why Capital IDEA is incredibly particular about the degree programs we support. A new career only makes it onto our list when we know who the employers are, we’ve verified there is demand across the Central Texas region, and we’ve confirmed which degree programs or training options most reliably lead to employment. And to further increase the odds of our students finding a living wage job, we offer career placement services.

“I am grateful for the two internships I did while I was with Capital IDEA. It exposed me to professional work environments, and I had a job offer before I even graduated.”

– Jason Lopez
Graduate Spotlight: Be Your Own Hero

Career Placement Support

Career placement services at Capital IDEA provide an advantage to our students. Senior Employment Coordinator, Ron Modesty, assists graduates and soon-to-be graduates by developing their job search skills and creating a winning strategy. These skills include sharpening their resumes and cover letters, preparing for interviews, and knowing where to look for jobs. Ron also follows up with graduates to see if they’ve secured work, and if they haven’t, he provides important feedback to increase their chances of landing the job at their next interview.

In addition to the job search process, our career placement services also help our Information Technology (IT) students secure internships with valuable employer partners. Ron establishes partnerships with companies in the area, like Travis County and VISA, and secures internship slots for Capital IDEA IT students. These internships provide a tremendous advantage to students as it gives them on-the-job experience, and some are offered to stay on as full-time employees with those companies after their internship is over.

Our mission is to get our Central Texas neighbors into great careers. For us, getting a degree is only part of the process. That’s why our support extends past graduation all the way to their first placement and the start of an exciting career.

Meet The Staff

Ron Modesty, Sr. Employer Coordinator


Q: What is your role at Capital IDEA?
A: I perform all of the Career Placement services offered by Capital IDEA, including placing interns and forming partnerships with employers, but most of my time is spent preparing graduates to conduct professional job searches. I usually meet with our students between their last two semesters, and during their last semester, I have them complete a checklist of crucial items to find the job they want. I then help them to get started with their job searches. I like to think that I am not just preparing our graduates for their first job search but giving them the tools to do job searches for the rest of their working careers.

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: The great Ann Landers once said: “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them.”

Q: What is a fun fact your students usually learn about you in the first semester or year?
A: I love my job and have been with Capital IDEA for 22 years. And when I need to relax, you’ll find me on the greens, because I also love to golf. My favorite golf quote is: “They call it golf because all the other four-letter words were taken!”

Our support doesn’t end when you get the degree. We want you to find the job you’ve worked so hard for. If this is the type of support you want, sign up for an info session to get started.

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




By Jeff Sanchez | SEPTEMBER 27, 2021

Support Spotlight Series

For the second installment in our Support Spotlight Series, we are highlighting our Career Navigators. It is one of the most important and unique forms of support that a student receives in the Career Expressway program. Keep reading to learn more about the role the support they provide.

“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 Patino
Graduate Spotlight: One Family, Three Degrees, and Counting

Career Navigators

Every student in the Career Expressway has a unique set of challenges that they must overcome to get their degree and enter the professional workforce. For all, there is a financial barrier. For others, that’s combined with being a parent, or having a language barrier. And for some, it may be a confidence issue. To help them face their challenges, every student gets assigned a Career Navigator.

Similar to school counselors, Career Navigators advise students on coursework and provide resources to help with academic struggles. But our Career Navigators also go beyond the academic. Personal struggles can affect a student’s performance in school. That’s why a Career Navigator’s role in the Career Expressway program is so important. When a student informs their Navigator about a personal issue that could affect their academic goals, they search for ways to help that student. By providing support in this manner, they are able to help a student overcome obstacles that could prevent that student from getting their degree.

Career Navigators have helped so many of our students keep up with their classes and push through to graduation. Even when a student must step away from college due to personal reasons, Navigators stay the course and encourage individuals to come back to finish their degree. With this type of support, we’ve had tremendous success in helping individuals achieve their academic dreams.

Meet The Navigators

Theresa Soto, Career Navigator


Q: What is your role at Capital IDEA?
A: I am a Career Navigator who assists students in IT, CAD, and Trades (A/C, Heating, Automotive, Electronics Technician, Advanced Manufacturing, Solar, and the unions).

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: I have a personal philosophy that I strive to live by: Carpe Diem, Seize the Day!

Q: What is a fun fact your students usually learn about you in the first semester or year?
A: I am a huge sports fan! My favorite time of year is football season in Fall and baseball season in the Spring! Oh, and I also love boxing and UFC.

Elida Guardia Bonet, Career Navigator


Q: What is your role at Capital IDEA?
A: I am a Career Navigator who assists students in College Prep and various Healthcare career tracks.

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: I tell all my students to believe in themselves and be persistent. To take one day at a time. And then I share this quote with them: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao Tzu

Q: What is a fun fact your students usually learn about you in the first semester or year?
A: I am a storyteller and a writer. And most recently I managed to take advantage of this COVID situation to get into mosaics! It’s something I had been wanting to do just never found the time to do it. And I love it!

Sara Hernandez, Career Navigator


Q: What is your role at Capital IDEA?
A: I am a Career Navigator who assists students in all of the Healthcare careers we support.

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: I like to tell students that when difficult times arise you have the NO with you, now go for the YES! Ask for, look for, work for, and imagine the YES with you. Then GO and make it happen.

Q: What is a fun fact your students usually learn about you in the first semester or year?
A: My accent is usually one of the first things students notice, so I tell them: I do not think with an accent. It is a part of me, and you will get used to it.

Lia Paschal, Career Navigator


Q: What is your role at Capital IDEA?
A: I am a Career Navigator who assists students in Healthcare careers.

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: I usually tell students: Don’t try to control the uncontrollable.

Sister Ane Nguyen, Career Navigator


Q: What is your role at Capital IDEA?
A: I am a Career Navigator who assists students in the ADN, ADN Mobility Track, and LVN Programs. Currently, I have 60 students I am responsible for.

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: It’s not so much a quote but a motto: Be open to learning new things and take a risk. Never give up and seek help when needed. None of us is an island.

Q: What is a fun fact your students usually learn about you in the first semester or year?
A: I believe you have to love your career and be strong and steady to build a foundation under it. I have been with Capital IDEA for over 22 years and am dedicated to my students. I remember a student of mine that was with me for over 7 years! He just completed this summer, and he is so grateful that I did not give up on him. This is the same dedication that I promise to all my students.

We’re here for you! If you or someone you know has always dreamed of earning a degree but needs support to get there contact us today! We’re ready to help you reach your goals.

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




By Jeff Sanchez | SEPTEMBER 17, 2021

Support Spotlight Series

For over 20 years, Capital IDEA has supported thousands of students on their journey toward a college degree and a better job. Every student accepted into the Career Expressway program is supported financially and offered personal guidance because often, money isn’t the only obstacle keeping someone from earning a degree.

In our Support Spotlight series, we are highlighting the different types of support we offer and introducing you to the dedicated staff who provide these vital supports. Today we are highlighting our childcare services and introducing you to our Program Specialist, Rosemary Cavazos.

“To be honest if it wasn’t for Capital IDEA, I wouldn’t be in school right now. There would be no way that I could afford going to school and work part-time, to get a new career. It would be almost impossible on my own to do that. Childcare was a huge factor.”

– Melinda Sertuche
Student Journey: Child Care Doesn’t Need to Hold You Back

Childcare Support

Capital IDEA understands the challenges of going to school as a parent, and that’s why childcare support is a vital component of the Career Expressway program. When a student has childcare in place, they are less likely to miss class and more likely to graduate on time. With over 40% of our students having children under 18 years of age, our commitment to this type of support is crucial to the mission.

Because their children will always come first, setting up childcare support is one of the first steps a new student takes once accepted into our program. We partner with two local Child Care Services (CCS) programs, Workforce Solutions CCS Capital Area and Workforce Solutions CCS Rural Area, to provide support across the ten-county region. We also help our students find the right care for their situation through programs like YMCA’s Extend-a-Care or Boys and Girls Club. And for those that qualify we search out free options like Austin ISD Pre-K or Head Start programs, and Austin Community College’s student childcare scholarship program.

Childcare support has helped so many of our parent students keep up with their classmates and avoid graduation delays. And thanks to our extensive partner network, we are confident we can find a solution for every parent ready to pick up a backpack and become a Career Expressway student.

Meet The Staff

Rosemary Cavazos, Program Specialist


Q: What is your role at Capital IDEA?
A: I assist all Capital IDEA participants with childcare needs. I have a passion for helping families who struggle with the current providers because their children require additional or specialized care to assist with diagnosis or delays in development.

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” – James Baldwin

Q: What is a fun fact your students usually learn about you in the first semester or year?
A: I know childcare centers very well! I spent almost 20 years working in both private and corporate centers as a director for the facilities, helping them qualify to receive state certifications. I can also relate to our students personally, having started my bachelor’s degree program with four kids, one of them being a newborn. This year I finished my master’s degree while managing a household of five kids, a goat, a pig, two bunnies, and two dogs! I understand what my students are going through, and I’m all in to help them achieve their goals.

We’re here for you! If you or someone you know has aspirations of earning a degree and moving up into a great career, but are concerned about childcare, contact us today! We’re ready to help you reach your goals.

To apply, sign up for an info session: CareerUp »
For questions: 512-457-8610 or outreach@capitalidea.org
Quick links: Qualifications | Career Directory | FAQs


SUBSCRIBE TO NEWS & EVENTS | Don’t miss our next blog post!




2000+

Capital IDEA students have been placed in new careers

3X

Most graduates TRIPLE their previous earnings

$25/hr

was the average starting wage for Capital IDEA students placed in 2021

1107

Capital IDEA students received direct support in 2021

$22M+

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

Guide Star Gold

News & Events

Graduate Spotlight: Something Bigger Than Herself

By Jeff Sanchez | OCTOBER 26, 2022 “I did this for my daughters. I started this journey to take care of them.” When Dr. Debra Utpadel was asked what she was most proud of, she did not hesitate to mention her daughters, “The best thing to come out of all this is that I have […]

Read More

Receive News & Updates

If you’d like to keep up with our success stories and newest milestones,
sign up for our newsletter today!

News and Update