After completing a computer course for Spanish speakers this fall, Ana Lilia Mendez said she is already using what she learned in her cleaning business.
On Excel, she is able to keep track of invoices, create graphs and complete financial reports.
She said the skills she learned also helped her apply for an emergency COVID-19 grant for her business, Lili’s Green Cleaning Services, which she started last fall.
Mendez is one of 16 who graduated Dec. 5 from the free computer course offered to Spanish speakers. Classes were held in a bilingual format for six Saturdays this fall, and included basic and advanced levels.
"Honestly, I was very afraid at the beginning," Mendez said through an interpreter. "I thought it was very complex, and I felt to some extent a bit embarrassed of making mistakes and not doing as well as others. I was kind of intimidated. But honestly it was extremely easy. I didn’t realize how much I was learning."
The course was offered through the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) in Mount Vernon in partnership with Skagit Valley College and the Skagit Community Foundation.
Alex Perez, project manager at NABC, said classes were limited to 10 students to ensure social distancing and that safety precautions were followed. He said because some were unfamiliar with computers or how to use Zoom, it was necessary to hold in-person classes.
He said students included current and aspiring business owners, and parents looking to help their kids with online learning.
“It was really tailored to helping them with the pandemic as far as what they could be learning to better their lives and their families', and at the same time helping (business owners) step it up," he said.
Since the pandemic began, Perez said he has heard from members of the Latino community about struggles with online learning or applying for small business grants or government assistance.
"We learned that many times people are missing out on opportunities that are rare, especially for undocumented folks, because they don’t know how to use a computer," he said.
He said there was more demand for the classes than could be accommodated, and NABC is working with the college to expand classes in the future.
“People were saying ‘we want more, this wasn’t enough,'" he said.
The classes were taught by bilingual instructor Gilberto Estrada, who has taught the course at Skagit Valley College since 2007, and Sandra Ruiz, his assistant and former student.
Estrada said students in the fall course learned how to use Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and online conferencing platforms such as Zoom, and practiced typing.
He said the skills learned are helpful for job searching, running a business or for becoming a student at Skagit Valley College.
"We empower the students, they feel more confident, they are not afraid anymore," he said.
Estrada said for many the classes were a first introduction to technology.
"Many of them were not able to touch a computer before," he said.
Mendez said knowing how to use a computer can make a big difference in many ways, and open up opportunities.
"As Latinos in this country, we want to succeed and keep growing and being better," she said. "If you know how to use a computer, there’s a lot of benefits to it.”