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United Way of Lancaster County


Tec Centro creates network to foster regional expansion

Clockwise from top left are existing and future Tec Centro sites in Lebanon, Lancaster, Reading and York.

Carlos Graupera

Tec Centro, the Spanish American Civic Association’s bilingual workforce training center, is now officially a regional initiative.

The Tec Centro Workforce Network was incorporated as a nonprofit last year. The umbrella organization will serve Tec Centro in Lancaster and its sister initiatives in Lebanon, Reading and York, allowing them to share best practices and collaborate on fundraising and lobbying for state support for workforce development, SACA CEO Carlos Graupera said.

As more Tec Centro sites are launched, they, too, will become part of the network, he said.

Graupera serves as the Workforce Network’s executive director. He will step into that role exclusively in a few weeks when he retires as SACA’s CEO, a role he has held since SACA’s founding 50 years ago. SACA’s new CEO will be Jose Lopez, now its president.

In 2022, Graupera and Lopez secured $5 million in the state budget to build out the Tec Centro network. Conversations with legislators continue, and the hope is to make the appropriation annual.

Graupera outlined the vision for propagating the Tec Centro model during an online forum Tuesday. Its forum followed the same format as one held almost exactly a year ago, with the leaders of each Tec Centro providing updates on their progress:

  • Lancaster: SACA opened the first Tec Centro site in Lancaster’s southeast in 2014. In 2021, it added a satellite location, Tec Centro West. Together, they serve about 1,000 clients a year, Executive Director Marlyn Barbosa said. It has secured more than 1,800 job placements for its graduates: They earn an average of $19 an hour, with about four out of five increasing their family income by 40% or more, she said.
  • Lebanon: Created as a division of WEPA, Working to Empower People for Advancement, Tec Centro Lebanon is on track to open this summer at 9 S. Ninth St., Executive Director Kay Litman said. It plans to start off with employment services, then add English as a Second Language and GED classes toward the end of the year. Following that, it will incorporate workforce training in culinary arts, healthcare and construction.
  • Reading: In operation since 2021, Tec Centro Berks has maintained a 100% graduation rate, with graduates earning $18 an hour on average, Executive Director Violet Emory said.
  • York: The York Community Resource Center acquired 800 E. Market St., a former bank branch office from M&T Bank last year. It is working to remodel the site, with the goal of opening Tec Centro York there in 2024. The effort is headed by Executive Director AliceAnne Frost, formerly of The Program, It’s About Change.
From left: Marlyn Barbosa, Violet Emory, AliceAnne Frost, Kay Litman. (Source: Provided)

Additionally, Graupera said, the team is in talks with a group of stakeholders interested in launching a Tec Centro initiative in Harrisburg.

Tec Centro isn’t just for Latinos, he and Barbosa emphasized: It’s for anyone with a desire for self-improvement who “rings the doorbell.” About 80% of Tec Centro’s clients in Lancaster are Latino, but the other 20% hail from more than two dozen countries and speak three dozen languages, Barbosa said.

Barbosa and Emory both said they have long waiting lists, especially for ESL classes. In Lancaster, the waiting list totals more than 1,000 individuals, of whom more than 400 are waiting for an English class to open up, Barbosa said. It would take more than $3 million in added capacity to bring the list down to zero, she estimated.

At root, Tec Centro is about economic development, Graupera said: It’s an effort by marginalized urban communities to invest in their own revitalization. He urged donors, government leaders and the community at large to support it.

Organizers need grants to renovate buildings and purchase equipment, he said. They need to partner with educational institutions and employers to develop programs that meet local economic needs. They need volunteers.

“I hope the takeaway today is that you support the mission of the network,” Graupera said.