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BLWDC Adds Culinary Arts to its Training Programs

Nine students are preparing to work in a commercial kitchen, perhaps their own, in the inaugural class of Tec Centro Berks’ culinary arts program.

After successfully launching two allied-health training programs in cooperation with Reading Area Community College over the past year or so, leaders of the Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp. were looking to switch tracks to the hospitality sector.

All that stood in the way was a commercial kitchen.

The organization, also known as Tec Centro Berks, lacked a facility for a culinary arts program at its home in south Reading, said Violet Emory, executive director.

The fledging organization collaborates with nonprofits, including the Hispanic Center of Reading and Berks County, to expand its reach.

When he learned the lack of a kitchen posed an obstacle in launching a culinary arts program, Michael Toledo, president and CEO of the Hispanic Center of Reading and Berks County, offered use of the Hispanic Center’s kitchen, Emory said.

This paved the way for the 10-week program to begin this fall. Their classroom is the kitchen on the first floor of the Hispanic Center’s home at Second and Washington streets.

Nine students make up the inaugural class. They’re learning basic safety practices for preparing and serving food — from dicing raw meat and vegetables to sanitation.

The 10-week course culminates with review and preparation for the ServSafe exam to receive a food-handler certificate from the National Restaurant Association.

The class meets Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 6 p.m.

The culinary arts program was envisioned as a daytime program, but it became an evening program with the kitchen only available after 5 p.m., Emory said.

As with its other training programs, the course, taught by a bilingual instructor, sets up students for employment in a sector in which trained workers are in demand.

“Employers are looking for people who are ServSafe-certified so they don’t have to provide the training,” Emory said.

The program is not designed for people who just want to develop skills for use in their own kitchen, Emory said. Participants have to be interested in working for a commercial kitchen such as a hotel.

Several of the participants plan to operate their own restaurants or food trucks.

Among them is Yonette Webster, 53.

A native of Guyana, South America, the Reading resident said she’s been cooking since she was 9 years old with her grandmother who raised her.

“I still cook for my church and my kids’ friends,” she said. “I already know how to cook but not in the professional way. My goal is to have my own cafe.”

The United Way of Berks County funded the first group of culinary arts students, Emory said.

Tec Centro Berks has been phasing in converting space at its home facility at 450 S. Sixth St. into classrooms for its programs with the help of a grant, but a facility for culinary arts instruction isn’t in the immediate plans, she said.

Tec Centro last year launched a state-certified nurse aide program in partnership with Reading Area Community College. The current class is its fifth.

In the spring, it graduated its first phlebotomist course. This fall, in addition to the culinary arts program, it launched a medical billing specialist course.

Its next clinical program — medical assistant — is planned for next year.

Students are recruited through community outreach events, social media and referrals from graduates and partner organizations, including ESL (English as a second language) programs.

“We have a waiting list of over 500 individuals,” Emory said.

Graduates receive case-management services for a year after graduating. The organization helps them overcome difficulties such as navigating the public transportation system.

“You have to set them up to be successful by addressing those barriers,” Emory said.

Read the original article on The Reading Eagle.


Tec Centro Berks Names New Board Chair

Lizette Epps has been named the new Board Chair of Tec Centro Berks, which consists of nine diverse and influential leaders who aim to drive the mission and vision of the organization, which provides community-based bilingual workforce development to serve those that are unemployed and underemployed.

Epps is a highly accomplished, award-winning business professional and community advocate who has dedicated her career to the fields of procurement, credit union development, and non-profit management. She currently serves as Executive Director of Financial Services and Internal Operations at Alvernia University’s O’Pake Institute, where she is a forward-focused financial expert fueling economic development in our region. With her expertise and passion, she has made a significant impact in promoting financial empowerment and social change.

As a Certified Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), Epps has played a pivotal role in advancing the mission of credit unions and fostering financial inclusivity. Through her extensive knowledge and experience, she has worked tirelessly to establish and strengthen credit unions in various communities, providing accessible and sustainable financial services to underserved populations. Epp’s advocacy and dedication have empowered individuals and communities to overcome financial challenges and achieve economic stability.

In addition to her contributions to credit union development, Epps is a Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) who excels in non-profit management. Her strategic insights and expertise have helped numerous non-profit organizations maximize their impact and create positive change. Through her leadership and collaborative approach, Epps has transformed organizations, ensuring their long-term sustainability and enabling them to fulfill their missions effectively. Her commitment to social causes, combined with her exceptional skills, make her a trusted and respected figure not only in the non-profit sector but community-wide.

Epps is a dynamic professional who is passionate about financial empowerment, cooperative economics, and social justice. Her 28 years of business expertise and dedication to historically underserved communities have made a significant impact on the lives of individuals and communities as she continues to drive positive change across the region.

“With a shared commitment to empowering individuals and fostering economic growth, I look forward to working with our new Board Chair to chart a course of growth and progress for our organization. Liz brings a wealth of experience and dedication to our mission, and we are excited to have her guidance and leadership as we continue our mission to positively impact the lives of the residents of our Berks County community,” said Violet Emory, Executive Director of Berks Tec Centro.

Berks Tec Centro, also referred to as Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation (BLWDC), was originally established in 2018 and has grown steadily and significantly through collaborative efforts with the city of Reading Community Development Department and local non-profits to support residents and local businesses to improve the region’s socioeconomic health. All occupational training programs offered by Berks Tec Centro allow participants to obtain role-based training and advanced certifications but also concurrently bridge participants to either English as a Second Language (ESL), high school equivalency, soft skills, job readiness, professional development, and college readiness. Learn more by visiting:

Berks Tec Centro is part of the Tec Centro Workforce Network, which is a coalition of all the regional bilingual community-based Tec Centro Workforce Centers. Their collective goal is to serve populations that are disproportionately disadvantaged in third-class cities in Central Pennsylvania, with a heavy concentration of residents who face barriers related to bilingual education, skills training, and job placement. And in working to proactively address and break down these barriers, the network provides the tools and opportunities for a way out of poverty. Learn more by visiting:


Art and activities celebrate South Reading neighborhood

Community resources and talents were showcased with a walking tour, mural dedication, and concert.

Sharing food is central to the rituals and celebrations of nearly every culture. So it’s no surprise that food played a role in South of Penn’s celebration of culture and community spirit.

The event Saturday showcased resources and businesses in the area bounded by Franklin and Canal Streets and Second and Seventh Streets.

Activities began with an afternoon walking tour of the district with stops at the Reading Public Library, 100 S. Fifth St.; Idea Park, 154 S. Fourth St.; Salvation Army Reading Citadel, 301 S. Fifth St.; and Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp., 450 S. Sixth St.

Samples from area restaurants were served at each stop.

The dozen walkers finished their tour in the 300 block of South Seventh Street, where they joined about 50 area residents and others for the dedication of a wall mural in a once-empty lot.

The festivities ended with a neighborhood cookout and concert on the now-beautified lot, dubbed Lucky’s Lane.

“The food tour celebrates our small-business owners who are chasing their dreams,” said Jada Aviles, coordinator of the South of Penn neighborhood organization.

The group focuses on building relationships among residents, networking, encouraging homeownership, and improving livability in the area.

“The ideas come from the community itself,” she said. “I just kind of drive the boat, and everyone else helps me navigate through it all.”

For Aviles, who grew up in the South-of-Penn area, the day meant more than full stomachs and happy neighbors. It was a chance to familiarize residents and visitors with the amenities in the neighborhood and to make new friends.

“I was born and raised here,” she said. “This is my community.”

The lot transformation and artwork are a dream come true, she said

The original article can be found in The Reading Eagle.


1st graduates of Berks Tec Centro Phlebotomy Program Honored

The students completed the 15-week program that included 100 hours of classroom instruction followed by training in a clinical setting.

Nine students became the first graduates of the phlebotomy program that was launched by Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp., the nonprofit’s second allied health program provided in partnership with Reading Area Community College.

The 15-week program includes 100 hours of classroom and lab instruction and concludes with an 80-hour externship in a clinical setting, said Violet Emory, executive director of the agency, also known as Berks Tec Centro, in Reading.

The program covers the following areas of study: medical terminology; laboratory testing; policies and procedures in maintaining laboratory safety and infection control; and proper methods of requisitioning, specimen transport, and specimen processing.

Classroom instruction began in January at Berks Tec Centro’s facility at 450 S. Sixth St. and concluded in April, after which the students worked at their clinical training sites, Emory said.

Students graduating from the phlebotomy program are prepared to take the National Health Career Association Phlebotomy Technician certification examination.

The graduation ceremony Friday was held at Berks Tec Centro.

The organization launched its first allied health program last year in partnership with RACC. Ten students completed the inaugural nurse aide class, providing them with basic skills to provide care to patients, residents, and clients in a long-term care facility.

Berks Tec Centro nurse aide program graduates are prepared to take the nurse aide certification examination administered through the Department of Education.

Emory said United Way of Berks County has provided the major funding for Berks Tec Centro’s allied health program initiative. KeyBank sponsored the inaugural phlebotomy class.

A health careers job fair immediately followed graduation with representatives of Penn State Health and Tower Health taking applications for those who were already offered jobs at the sites of their clinical training.

The next allied health program will train people to be medical assistants, Emory said.

“We’re excited about that,” she said. “It will be the last allied health program we’re phasing in with RACC for the foreseeable future.”

The organization’s major upcoming focus will be in the areas of trades and culinary arts, helping to fill a need in the business community. The organization has also partnered with other organizations to provide other bilingual education and skills training in Reading.

BLWDC is preparing to launch a culinary arts program in the fall and phase in commercial and industrial plumbing and electrical beginning in 2024, Emory said.

The original article can be found in The Reading Eagle.


U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan Tours Berks Projects that Secured Federal Funding

Jakob Hollenbach was more than a little excited.

The Alvernia University sophomore from Topton had been headed down the stairs from his dorm room on the fourth floor of the school’s Reading CollegeTowne building late Wednesday morning to class when a group of school officials diverted him. They asked him to join them in checking out the progress that was being made on converting a 55,000-square-foot space on the building’s second floor into the new home of Alvernia’s nursing program.

The renovation will allow Alvernia to add more than 120 students to the program when it’s completed in August.

The effort is a big deal to Hollenbach, who was eager to tag along and get a glimpse of the ongoing project. The 20-year-old is studying at Alvernia with the hopes of one day becoming an emergency room nurse.

The second floor of CollegeTowne — at the moment just a wide-open shell with exposed pipes and wires — is where he hopes to turn that dream into a reality.

For that to happen, a lot of work needs to be done. And it will be, thanks in part to help from the federal government.

Federal grant money is playing a big part in Alvernia’s renovation project at its CollegeTowne campus. That’s why U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan stopped by Wednesday.

During a tour of the construction site she crossed paths with the excited Hollenbach, taking a few moments to talk to him about what the project will mean for him. She understood his eagerness for the work to be completed and what it will mean for his career preparation — she explained that her brother, Jason Jampoler, is an emergency room nurse in Iowa.

She also understood the role federal investments play in projects like the one at Alvernia. It’s exactly why the Chester County Democrat who also represents part of Berks County decided to spend some time in Berks on Wednesday.

Houlahan visited several sites around the county where federal dollars are being put to use to benefit the local community.

Her first stop was at Alvernia, followed by visits to the Daniel Torres Hispanic Center, the Literacy Council of Reading-Berks and, lastly, the LGBT Center of Greater Reading.

At Alvernia, the congresswoman presented school officials with an oversized, ceremonial check for $2 million. The money was for expansion of its health science program and provided through the federal Community Project Funding program, which was included in the recently-passed federal budget.

At the Hispanic Center, she heard about how the organization was using the $635,000 in Community Project Funding it received to establish itself as a health hub.

At the LGBT Center she learned about the organization’s Violence Reduction Project that is being supported by $113,000 from the program.

And at the Literacy Council, which received federal COVID relief funding, Houlahan again saw how local organizations are using federal dollars.

“What these places have in common is that each of these institutions have been recipients of Community Project Funding and American Rescue Plan,” she said. “So those federal dollars are helping right here in our community and we are here today to see the progress that has been made.”

Houlahan said her office takes its ability to support local organizations through federal funding seriously, knowing how important it is. And through the Community Project Funding program, she can have a hands-on impact where that money goes.

The program allows each of the country’s 435 House members to nominate up to 15 projects for federal funding. This is the second year the program has been included in the federal budget.

This year, 14 of Houlahan’s projects were approved for a total of more than $10 million — including Alvernia, Centro Hispano and the LGBT Center.

“Our office really takes our responsibility very seriously so that when there are opportunities for funding we open up the process for all,” she said, adding that about 40 organizations applied for the program this past year. “That process goes through an independent group, separate and apart from our own office, that evaluates each of those proposals.”

Houlahan said the biggest priority is that the projects chosen to receive funding will enrich the community she serves and have a long-lasting impact for decades to come.

Along with the initiatives at Alvernia, Centro Hispano and the LGBT Center, the other projects in Berks to receive Community Project Funding through the congresswoman this year are the Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation and Reading Housing Authority.

The Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation received $1.9 million to help fund the physical renovation of its training facility and the purchase of equipment to establish skills and training programs.

The Reading Housing Authority received $750,000 to help repurpose two existing buildings in Oakbrook Homes to create a neighborhood resource center to offer programming including education and workforce development, a business center and a small grocery store.

The original article can be found in The Reading Eagle.


Capital Blue Cross Boosts Berks Tec Centro Facility Improvements

Insurer announces significant contribution to help Reading-based Berks Tec Centro expand its occupational training offerings.

Capital Blue Cross announced a significant financial commitment to help Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp., also known as Berks Tec Centro, undertake much-needed renovations at its facility in Reading to allow the nonprofit organization to grow its occupational training offerings.

The support is through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Neighborhood Assistance Program under the component titled Special Program Priorities. Contributions to a single project meeting special programs requirements qualify for a 75% tax credit.

Violet Emoy, executive director of Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp., said her organization was approved for $200,000 for renovations focused on the basement of its facility at 450 S. Sixth St. BLWDC has commitments from four donors for that amount, she said.

In 2022, Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp launched a state-certified nurse’s aides training program in partnership with Reading Area Community College and plans to expand its job training offerings to include medical assistant, phlebotomist and construction trades.

The organization plans fit-out construction of classroom space as it expands its trades programs, she said.

“We’re grateful for our donors because it will help us start serious renovations that are needed as we phase in our programs,” she said.

The organization’s mission is to move Latinos out of poverty by providing self-awareness, education, a pathway for youth, training and workforce development, economic development, and empowerment to create economic wealth and opportunities in Berks.

Capital Blue Cross officials said those values align with their own organization.

“Increasing our communities’ overall health and well-being, in part by closing existing gaps in access to opportunity, is among the ways Capital Blue Cross goes the extra mile every day,” said Susan Hubley, vice president of corporate social responsibility. “It’s difficult to imagine an organization that mirrors those values more closely than Berks Tec Centro. That’s why we’re so proud of this contribution, which will help provide additional pathways to education and professional development for Latinos in Berks County.”

The original article by Steven Henshaw in the Reading Eagle can be found here.


Breaking the Cycle of Latino Poverty and Empowering

Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation (also known as TecCentroBerks)is a nonprofit organization established in 2019 in Reading, Pennsylvania. Part of our mission is to empower the Hispanic population in Berks County.

Our focus is education and workforce development that leads to family self-sufficiency. When a family is self-sufficient, it breaks out of the cycle of poverty and empowers the next generations, enriching the foundation of our communities. Our vision is a better Reading free of poverty and economic barriers, providing quality jobs and economic equity for all Latinos in Berks County.

At Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation, we offer services such as English as a Second Language Classes, Computer Classes, and Occupational Courses. For example, we have the Nursing Assitant Program, Phlebotomy Program, Virtual Training through IBM SkillsBuild, Financial Education, and Employment. The services are free of cost (FREE), and we have always had open enrollment and the availability to offer our employment services.

For more information, you can visit our office located at 450 S. 6th Street Reading, PA 19601, or call us at (484) 513-3344 / (484) 513-3347.

The original article can be found in the December 2022 issue of Palo Magazine.


First Class of Nurse Aide Trainees Honored by Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp

The state-approved program was offered in partnership with Reading Area Community College.

The recently formed Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp., also known as Berks Tec Centro, honored 10 graduates who made up the first class of its inaugural job-training program.

The graduates of the nurse aide training program were recognized in a ceremony Thursday in the auditorium of the Berks Tec Centro office at 450 S. Sixth St.

Berks Tec Centro is modeled after a successful workforce development corporation in Lancaster.

Nurse aide graduates are equipped with basic skills to provide care for patients, residents and clients in a health care setting. They completed the Pennsylvania Department of Education-approved program provided in partnership with Reading Area Community College.

The program entails 120 hours of training that includes 54 hours of clinical instruction at a Berks County area long-term facility.

Students graduating from the program are prepared to take the nurse aide certification examination administered through the Department of Education.

Violet Emory, program director at Berks Latino Development, said the program is just a start of what is to come. She said the organization plans to phase in other job-training programs and has partnered with other organizations to provide other bilingual education and skills training in Reading.

The original article by Steven Henshaw in the Reading Eagle can be found here.


BLWDC Acquired its New Headquarters

Original Source

Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp

Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation acquired its new headquarters

By Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation, July 19, 2021

Congratulations to the BLWDC board members and staff. Today the Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation acquired its new headquarters building that will serve as a workforce development center for the City of Reading and surrounding areas.

Our senior leadership closed on a $432,000 mortgage financed by Community First Fund. Thank you, Jonathan Encarnacion, John Weidenhammer, Darleen Garcia, and Carlos Graupera for making this happen!!! Major philanthropy was provided by key community partners like the Wyomissing Foundation, United Way of Berks County, and Berks Alliance among others.

Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation is a newly formed Nonprofit that will provide essential job training services to the underemployed and unemployed members of the Reading community. For a very modest fee, participants will be able to acquire skills. knowledge and certifications to enter the workforce in the healthcare, hospitality, culinary, construction, welding, and computer programing industries and earn a living sustainable wage.

In addition, the center will provide literacy programs in English, math, and occupations. The Berks Latino Workforce will touch hundreds of low-income individuals each year, improving their lives and the community in which they reside. This organization has already received significant support from businesses and individuals in the Berks County region.

Pictured (L-R) Jonathan Encarnacion, Darleen Garcia from BLWDC, and Dan Beck, Community First.


Community leaders announce the formation of Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation

The BLWDC will serve as a platform to foster cooperation and investment between the community, business, government, education, and philanthropy sectors.

Community leaders announce formation of Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation

by Community First Fund

(Reading, PA): A group of Berks County community leaders has announced a newly created non-profit organization called the Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation (BLWDC). The mission of the BLWDC is to move Latinos out of poverty by providing self-awareness, education, and workforce development training and empowering them to create greater economic wealth. The BLWDC will serve as a platform to foster cooperation and investment between the community, business, government, education, and philanthropy sectors. The purpose is to resolve the Latino workforce development gap for marginalized individuals. “This organization will facilitate community improvement, provide culturally appropriate training and increase employment opportunities for economically and socially disadvantaged members of our community,” says Board Chair Jonathan Encarnacion. The BLWDC plans to develop a bilingual technology center that will serve as the vehicle to provide training and increase employment opportunities for the Latino community's economically disadvantaged. The training center’s curriculum will include language development courses to advance English Language proficiency, adult education that allows students to achieve their high school equivalency certificate, job readiness training to facilitate entering the workforce, and practical skills training for high demand occupations. It is expected that training programs and other supportive services will be provided in collaboration with other local educational and non-profit organizations. The Wyomissing Foundation has awarded $450,000 to the new organization, distributed over three years. The funds will be used to conduct a market analysis, hire administrative staff, and secure a facility that will serve as the bilingual workforce development center's location. “We are pleased to play a part in the establishment of this effort,” says Karen Rightmire, president of The Wyomissing Foundation. “Helping our community develop skills that will allow them to increase their wages and be able to support their families is our goal. Providing additional training to workers will help companies fill open positions. Having individuals and families earning an adequate income will go a long way to creating a vibrant, healthy city and county. The best social service intervention is a good job.” Santander Bank has also granted $100,000 to support the formation of the BLWDC, providing funds to complete crucial first-year goals necessary to establish the new organization. “We understand the importance of providing educational and workforce development training to help people in Berks County build better lives for themselves, their families, and the community,” said Seth Goodall, Executive Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Santander Bank. “The support and services provided by the BLWDC will address local needs, drive prosperity, and create new growth opportunities.” The organization has launched a regional search for an Executive Director and is projected to begin providing services by the second quarter of 2020. Board members for the newly formed BLWDC include: BERKS LATINO WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION BOARD OF DIRECTORS Jonathan Encarnacion (Board Chair), Administrative Director, UPMC Nereida Villanueva (Board Vice Chair), HR Director, Berks Community Health Center Jobany Bedoya (Board Secretary), Coordinator Latino Outreach, Greater Reading Chamber Alliance Bill Jennings (Board Treasurer), President and CEO, Reading Hospital Daniel Betancourt, President and CEO, Community First Fund Dayana Blandon, Human Resource Generalist, Reading Truck Body Lizette Epps, Director of Impact and Engagement, Visions Credit Union Angel Figueroa, CEO, I-LEAD Charter School Carlos Graupera. President, Spanish American Civic Association Dr. Susan Looney, President, Reading Area Community College Ramon Melecio, CEO, LinkTech Pamela Shupp, EVP & COO, Greater Reading Chamber Alliance John Weidenhammer, President, Weidenhammer Systems Incorporated