"Give a Man a fish, you feed him for a day, Teach a Man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime"

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

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This ancient proverb perfectly encapsulates the Charitable work of the Southwest Indian Foundation. So many people in our present society (often through no fault of their own) fall through the cracks of our economic and educational system. We are proud to announce a "life line" to those who have been left behind.

When economists talk about economic development and work force development, usually we hear talk of statistics about jobs available, unemployment numbers, efficiency, productivity, and other heady jargon. Which, of course, is important to understand in terms of how economies work and how to encourage economic growth for our communities.

But what is economic development? What is "labor force development"?

Here at Southwest Indian Foundation, we have been working in economic development and labor force development since we were founded in 1968. We believe that true economic development, while it must be data driven, it most importantly, must be people oriented. Our principle of providing a "hand up and not a handout" as Father Dunstan would say, has led us down this path for over 5O years.

Certainly, charts, graphs, and numbers are important for understanding economic activity, but we view economy as simply as people working together to obtain their needs, wants and desires. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out equally or fairly for all, and our mission is first and foremost to focus on providing relief to those individuals and families that have no secure means to obtain basic necessities on their own. But we have also made it our mission to provide avenues for families to provide for themselves and help build systems that give opportunities for the less fortunate.

Our catalog business is a prime example. Usually, we refer to it as the "employment project" because the primary reason for it's existence to provide decent jobs for local families. While it does provide income to the foundation to fund all our other programs, it provides 30 jobs right here in our community. That means 30 families have the income they need to supply for themselves and their families their wants, needs and desires. Each year, we also build about 10 homes for homeless families on the reservation. This provides families with practical stability as well as economic stability that can be passed on to the next generation.

In all the work we do, however, we try our best to focus on people. It is true that we must have good programs to help us build our local economy, we must always make sure the programs are person oriented.

This is why we are so excited about the Industrial Workforce Development program that we are taking over from Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation. Yes, we can talk in the manner of economists about the fact and figures - in a place where that work force readiness is one of the greatest challenges of bringing in new industry, we have trained, certified, and placed over 40 workers since 2019, and that would be true. However, our favorite part of the program is that we reached out to workers, some of whom, had never had steady work for a variety of

reasons, and helped them gain marketable skills and steady employment. That's not just the income numbers generated by those workers that matters; it's the potentially life changing stability that comes with that job. The family that doesn't have to bounce from hotel to hotel anymore because they can rent or even buy a home with the steady income. It's the newfound pride and confidence that comes with learning new skills and taking on new challenges. The pride in being part of a community of professionals who share passion for their craft.

The overriding approach is a loving, supportive, but firm one on one mentorship program that truly cultivates skills and builds knowledge and confidence. Many young people just need a nod of encouragement. The student must adopt not only the skill, but an attitude of success. This is the formula to becoming a true and long-lasting contributor to our local economy.

While we agree with all the economists that we need a skilled workforce to help us lure more industry to our area, these are the real gains that motivate us.

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