Jessica's Story: A Triple Threat

Jessica PictureAs a female business owner in the male dominated industry of construction, Jessica is not one to shy away from a challenge.

“When I told my former supervisor I was going to start a business, he told me I had three things working against me- that I am a woman, I’m young and I’m Latina,” said Jessica, a native of Mexico. “I said, wait and see; I’m going to make those things work for me instead of against me.”

Before starting an environmental consulting business for the construction industry, Jessica was a project manager for a local construction company. But she was laid off during the Great Recession and for many months searched fruitlessly for work.

Going from a professional with a comfortable income to unemployed on an extremely tight budget was incredibly trying for Jessica. It was in the midst of her financial struggles that Jessica approached Mi Casa with an idea to launch a business.

Armed with seven years of experience in the construction industry and certifications as an inspector and storm water specialist, Jessica hoped the challenges and rewards of starting her own business would outweigh the risks and sacrifice.

“You have to be willing to give up who you are in order to be who you want to be,” said Jessica.

At the Mi Casa Women’s Business Center, Jessica found the educational resources she needed to prepare for a successful business launch. She completed Mi Casa’s 13-week Business Success training course and later went on to enroll in Mi Casa’s next-level entrepreneurial training program, Business Breakthrough, where she developed a strategic plan to grow her operations.

“At Mi Casa I learned about all the components of a business: structure, marketing, operations, finance,” said Jessica. “Mi Casa also pushed me to forecast my financials, establish pricing, and make a plan for future growth.”

Jessica established her business, Environmental Consulting Services, LLC (ECS), in 2011. And she has continued to turn to Mi Casa for ongoing consulting support, help obtaining business certifications, and advice on how best to manage her growing operations.

“Mi Casa has helped me form a big picture plan for my business and then map out the small steps needed to achieve growth,” said Jessica. “I learned about the hiring process and how to get a website, as well as how to determine what growth made financial sense for my business.”

It hasn’t been easy for Jessica. Though the owner of her company, she is often assumed to be the secretary by male peers. Yet Jessica has persisted and fought to be respected and regarded as a competent woman-owned business.

Through Mi Casa, Jessica received high-quality business training and individual consulting support to obtain certifications, loans and develop a strategy to compete in an industry dominated by men and large companies.

“Mi Casa helped me become a confident business woman,” Jessica said. “They provided me with the learning and networking, and I worked as hard as I could to take advantage of those opportunities. Now I have a seat at the table with the big construction companies.”

With five employees, ECS has seven to ten contractors. In 2013, ECS had a gross revenue net of $51,460 and a profit of $18,603. Jessica expects ECS to grow 50% in 2014 due to an increase in inspection services. She plans to hire two to three storm water compliance and erosion control inspectors within six months.

Jessica was recently chosen to participate in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s selective Emerging Small Business program, which will equip her with the knowledge needed to grow ECS through expanding its federal contracts.

When asked what advice she has for other small business owners, Jessica’s answer reveals her robust ambition, “Persistence is key. I have always believed that I can compete with anyone in my industry by doing a great job at a competitive price. And guess what? I am!”

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Allyce's Story: Delicious Success

????????Life can change quickly, which is a truth Allyce (pictured at right with Mi Casa Women’s Business Director Elena) learned firsthand after she went from earning a six-figure income and living in a 5,000 square foot home with her husband and three children, to divorced and unemployed with $34.17 in her bank account.

But Allyce has also learned that dreams do come true. After losing her job and becoming a single mother, Allyce decided to pursue her dream of starting her own business and giving back to the community. She started a concierge service and prepared meals and snacks for clients, who raved about her sweets.

The popularity of her desserts gave Allyce the dream to start a catering business specializing in baked goods. She turned to Mi Casa Women’s Business Center in order to gain the training and tools she needed to develop Delicious and Divine, an exclusive catering business of homemade quick breads and desserts.

“Mi Casa gave me the best business tool I have, which is how to determine the unique feature and benefit of your business,” said Allyce. “I learned the first step to starting a business is truly understanding the why and how behind what you want to accomplish- as well as your target market- and the rest follows.”

Allyce enrolled in Mi Casa’s comprehensive 13 week Business Success class as well as a Metropolitan State University of Denver business course through Mi Casa to develop a detailed business plan.

Holding true to her dream of giving back to the community, Allyce also went on to complete Mi Casa’s Greater Good Academy, a course focused on helping entrepreneurs build socially responsible businesses by focusing on the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profit. Through this class, Allyce developed a plan for pursuing her passion of helping sexual assault survivors.

Headquartered in Cherry Creek, Delicious & Divine officially launched in November 2013. A portion of all proceeds is donated to the Denver Children’s Advocacy Center, a local nonprofit supporting the survivors of childhood sexual trauma.

Allyce is currently working with Mi Casa to facilitate relationships with coffee shops to display and sell her desserts and, as a self-proclaimed “artist of baked goods,” also has plans to expand her menu options.

“When I first started taking classes at Mi Casa, the Business Director said Mi Casa Women’s Business Center is here for me as long as I need it, and that I can return for free business counseling at any time,” said Allyce. “I was amazed at the support Mi Casa provided me.”

Allyce’s experience at Mi Casa inspired her to tell others about the agency’s programs and to give back so others could experience the same support she had.

“I was so touched by the support I received that I told Mi Casa’s Business Director I would one day give back to Mi Casa and that I would be a spokesperson in the community for the agency,” said Allyce.

Four years later, Allyce did just that through hosting a Delicious and Divine Open House Scholarship Fundraiser at Mi Casa Resource Center. The event was open to the community, and a silent auction featuring local artisans benefited Mi Casa Women’s Business Center.

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Meet Joe Rael: Director of Talent Acquisition

JRMi Casa TalentSource Director Joe Rael is far from new when it comes to starting staffing agencies from the ground up, which makes him just the person to head Mi Casa’s new social enterprise venture.

“Joe has hit the ground running since he was brought on staff at the end of 2013,” said Mi Casa CEO Christine Marquez-Hudson. “His leadership and expertise have helped us begin to put the TalentSource business plan into action, but we realize the community’s support is vital to our success.”

The crowd-sourced fundraising campaign raising final startup funds for TalentSource is in its final days.

Contributing to Mi Casa’s social enterprise will ensure our ability to continue empowering families to trade poverty for lasting economic self-sufficiency for years to come. Please help us finish strong! Visit our campaign here.

Joe says he enjoys being involved with the start-up phase of staffing agencies and developing initial processes, procedures and policies. He is also committed to the social enterprise aspect of the TalentSource business model.

“Starting from scratch and seeing the end product is rewarding,” said Joe. “The more successful I am able to make TalentSource, the more Mi Casa will benefit.”

Before Joe came to TalentSource, he co-founded 5280 Staffing and within two years grew the company to more than $2 million in revenue. Prior to that, Joe was hired to start a Denver branch of a Fort Collins-based staffing agency, and within four years grew the new branch to generate $3.5 million in revenue.

Joe credits his success to an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to differentiate his staffing agency from the pack. And Joe believes his determination and work ethic also play major roles in his past achievements.

“I have a continual and strong drive to succeed,” said Joe. “And I’m not afraid to work at any level in the staffing industry,” he added, explaining he does not shy away from necessary grind work.

Joe is also a former Mi Casa volunteer; he has helped with mock interviews and provided resume assistance to community job seekers.

“The vision for TalentSource is to provide support for Mi Casa, so Mi Casa can continue to support our community,” said Joe.

And Joe has no doubt that Mi Casa TalentSource will be a success.

To learn more about TalentSource, click here or contact Joe at 303-539-5691.

Quick Facts about Joe Rael:

Favorite Sport to Play: Flag football. Joe played in a league for 15 years and refereed for 4 years.

Favorite Sport to Watch: Broncos! A Denver native, Joe is a self-proclaimed orange and blue fanatic and even attended John Elway’s Hall of Fame Induction.

Favorite Restaurant: Right Coast Pizza

Word of Advice: “I really encourage individuals who are not familiar with Mi Casa to take the time to find out about all the programs they offer. As a volunteer, I was shocked by the depth and breadth of the services Mi Casa provides. It’s an incredible resource for the community.”

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Help Us Spread the Word!

We are in the final stages of launching TalentSource, a full-service staffing agency, which will connect Denver area employers to a skilled and diverse workforce while also generating funds to ensure our ability to continue helping families achieve economic self-sufficiency for years to come.

To raise final startup funds for TalentSource, we launched a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign through Indiegogo.

Help us spread the word about our Indiegogo campaign and TalentSource by participating in our social media campaigns!

Each 3-week campaign will pose a question relating to the meaningfulness of employment or future planning, and participants will be entered to win a $50 Visa gift card drawing. To enter the drawing, answer the question by leaving a comment below the question graphic. Participants can be entered into the drawing up to 3 times by commenting each week the question is posed. Winners will be announced on our Facebook and LinkedIn the week after the campaign ends. 

Get started now! What are you doing to ensure your future success? Answer by commenting on our Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Community's Help Needed to Ensure Financial Health

After 30 years of helping others start businesses, Mi Casa is taking our own advice!

TalentSourceDeclining government funding coupled with a growing need for services led Mi Casa to search for a way to generate more of its own income in order to ensure long-term financial health.

After a thorough business planning process, we are now launching Mi Casa TalentSource, a full-service Denver staffing agency. A unique aspect of our business will be providing Denver metro employers with access to highly qualified bilingual and diverse talent.

TalentSource will ensure Mi Casa’s ability – today and well into the future – to put people to work and empower them to create a better life for themselves and their families.

We are very excited to take this step toward financial independence, and we need your help to raise $25,000 in 46 days!

TalentSource has already received support from several foundations, but we need an additional $25,000 for start-up funds so we launched a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign!

“The vision for TalentSource is to provide monetary support for the agency so Mi Casa can continue to support our community as well as to work synergistically with its Career programs to further the agency’s work of expanding employment opportunities,” said TalentSource Director Joe Rael.

Aligning with Mi Casa’s mission by connecting unemployed and underemployed workers with promising careers and assisting Mi Casa career training graduates in gaining employment experience and full-time positions, TalentSource plays a natural role in the constellation of integrated services the agency offers.

“Just as Mi Casa offers a hand up to thousands of hardworking people who come through our doors each year, we need the community’s support to make our goal of financial independence a reality,” said Mi Casa CEO Christine Marquez-Hudson.

Donations are tax-deductible. To visit the campaign, click here.

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New Board Members to Increase Community Impact

New members bring expertise in management and finance to support Mi Casa’s mission of advancing economic success for Latino and low-income families.

Mi Casa is delighted to welcome two new board members whose skills, experience and leadership will be invaluable as Mi Casa implements its 5-year plan of expanding economic advancement services to a growing Denver-area population. Mi Casa is pleased to welcome two professionals to our Board of Directors:

  • Javier Rodriguez, President of DaVita Healthcare Partners, Inc.
  • Michael Hiller, Vice President and Branch Manager of Colorado State Bank & Trust

“Rodriguez andJR Hiller each bring their own areas of expertise that will support Mi Casa’s efforts in our career and business services, as well as enhance our fundraising efforts,” said Christine Marquez-Hudson, Mi Casa CEO/Executive Director.

“We are thrilled to welcome Mr. Rodriguez, a renowned Latino leader in Denver with extraordinary management experience gained through DaVita, and Mr. Hiller with his strong ties to the Denver banking industry and demonstrated commitment to Mi Casa’s workforce development program,” said Christine Marquez-Hudson.

Javier Rodriguez (pictured at left) has been a featured speaker for the Graduate Schools of Harvard, Wharton and Stanford and earned his MBA from the Harvard School of Business.

“I am excited to be part of such a vibrant organization that is helping Latino and working families create a successful financial future,” said Rodriguez.

Michael HillerMichael Hiller (pictured at right) has worked at Colorado State Bank & Trust for more than 12 years and has spent his career in the banking industry. An active volunteer with Mi Casa since 2010, Hiller teaches career program participants about managing personal finances and working in the banking industry.

“I am involved with Mi Casa because I have a passion to work with others that are committed to bettering themselves, their families and those around them,” said Hiller.

Mi Casa’s board also appointed its leadership positions: Richard Gonzales, an Attorney at Reno & Cavanaugh, PLLC, was elected as Board President; Debbie Trujillo, Community Relations Director at Key Bank, will serve as Vice President. Luis Ventoza, Senior Vice President at PCL Construction, will remain as Treasurer and Inez Davis, Human Resources Director at URS Energy & Construction, continues her post as Secretary.

Both Hiller and Rodriguez were featured in the Denver Business Journal’s People on the Move for their appointment to Mi Casa’s board. See Hiller’s listing here and view Rodriquez’s listing here.

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Day of Connection

day of connection

Youth from Mi Casa’s Neighborhood Center at North High School recently facilitated afterschool programs for students at Mi Casa’s Neighborhood Center at the Lake Middle School Campus.

Dubbed the Day of Connection, this youth leading youth event marked a monumental achievement for Mi Casa’s Youth & Family Development programs.

“This Day of Connection actualized the vision of youth leadership we have strived toward since expanding our afterschool programming to North High School two years ago,” said Mi Casa Director of Youth & Family Development Karen Fox Elwell. “The power of having a middle school to high school continuum of afterschool programs was actualized through our ability to harness the talents of high school students to mentor and serve as role models for middle school youth.”

Facilitating a panel on life in high school and tips for succeeding in middle school, nine high school students from Mi Casa’s Peer Mentoring Program answered questions from middle school students about AP classes, homework and more.

“The panel was so cool! I learned that high school students have more options in school, homework and extracurricular activities than we do in middle school,” said Rudy, a middle school participant.

Following the panel, high school students studying leadership and technology in the rigorous Comcast Digital Connectors afterschool program led middle school participants through the Hour of Code, a national campaign introducing students to computer science.

Digital Connectors students worked one-one-one with middle school participants to ensure they understood the concepts presented and were able to apply them correctly when writing computer code. The high school students enjoyed sharing their knowledge with the middle schoolers so much they asked if they could have a chance to teach them again.

Zuriah, a middle school participant, said, “The Hour of Code was really cool. It was fun, but also challenging. You really had to pay attention to understand how to code.”

The Day of Connection culminated with the middle school youth receiving certificates of participation and gear from North High School.

Mi Casa is excited for how its two Neighborhood Centers can continue connecting in key ways, leveraging a youth leading youth model to cultivate leadership skills among high school participants while simultaneously preparing middle school students for the next stage of their education. Plans are already underway for more high school youth-led activities for Lake Campus students, including a field trip to the Neighborhood Center at North High School.

To see more pictures, click here.

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Mi Casa 2013 Employee of the Year: Elena Vasconez

Employee of the Year 2013

Director of Business Development Elena Vasconez (right) receives her Employee of the Year Certificate from Mi Casa CEO Christine Marquez-Hudson.

The Mi Casa 2013 Employee of the Year Award was presented to Director of Business Development Elena Vasconez. Elena won the award for her outstanding service both to the Mi Casa Women’s Business Center and the launch of the Mi Casa Innovation Lab, as well as her extraordinary dedication to the agency’s core values and overall success.

“Elena has worked tirelessly this past year, sometimes seven days a week and often well into the evening,” said Mi Casa CEO Christine Marquez-Hudson. “Elena brings much enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment to her position and the Business Team.”

Possessing a strong commitment to offering services that are dynamic and responsive to the needs of the community, Elena had an instrumental role in creating a strategic and bold vision for the Innovation Lab. She also invested numerous hours into planning new programs, collaborating with community partners and recruiting new staff to make the Innovation Lab a reality, on top of her duties as the director of the Mi Casa Women’s Business Center.

Directing the Women’s Business Center this past year was far from easy. A growing demand for services within the community coupled with declining funding and an understaffed team posed several challenges. But Elena helped her team rise above these obstacles to successfully meet the community’s need for small business and entrepreneurial services.

“With Elena’s inspirational leadership, her understaffed team managed the Herculean effort of serving nearly 800 businesses in 2013,” said Christine.

There is no denying Elena’s strong work ethic has created a large community impact. Besides serving 784 businesses, the Mi Casa Women’s Business Center helped launch 80 new businesses last year, which created 54 new jobs and generated $7.5 million in revenue

Mi Casa is very lucky to have Elena on our team!

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Luis's Story

LuisLuis Ramos was inspired to start his own business after his wife became pregnant with their second child and said she wanted more time to take care of their children than her job as a full-time field worker allowed. So Luis started his own concrete construction business and his wife has not had to work ever since.

Originally from Mexico, Luis’ family moved to California when he was a young child. His father was a field worker and Luis followed in his father’s footsteps before beginning a career in construction at the age of 25.

After moving to Colorado in 1997, Luis was determined to start his own business after learning of  his wife’s desire to spend more time raising their family and started a concrete construction business with a partner the same year. His partner bought out the business a year later and soon after Luis started JCL Concrete, specializing in foundations and flat-work.

Within four years, JCL Concrete was generating over 2 million in revenue. However, the economic downturn heavily impacted his business from 2009 to 2011 and almost forced Luis to close down due to low bid prices and the scarcity of construction jobs. During this difficult time, Luis turned to Mi Casa’s Women’s Business Center for support.

“Mi Casa’s business training inspired me to start hitting it hard and going for it, even though many construction companies were struggling,” said Luis, who attended Mi Casa’s 13-week Exito para Negocios (Business Success) class.

While attending Exito para Negocios, Luis received valuable onLuis2e-on-one business counseling from Mi Casa.

“I was advised to go directly to companies to solicit jobs, which worked extremely well,” said Luis. “And after completing these jobs, we often received more contracts through recommendations.”

Luis said Mi Casa’s  business training helped him learn how to interact more professionally with prospective clients and also armed him with marketing skills.

“I learned it is best to keep things simple and to the point,” said Luis, who said his business has significantly grown through word of mouth recommendations.

The success of his business allowed Luis to send his daughter to college debt-free and also pay for his son’s trade school education.

Luis continues to receive business counseling from Mi Casa to ensure his business continues to grow. And business is booming for JCL Concrete, which has non-stop work lined up for the next few months.

Luis has no doubts his business will experience exponential growth in the coming year. He said, “We have so much work right now, we can barely keep up.”

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How to Job Search Effectively

job search tipsJob searching can be overwhelming. But understanding how to create effective resumes and cover letters, as well as where to search for jobs, can make the job search process much easier.

Resumes The first step in a job search is creating or updating a resume.

Resumes should contain the following information:

-Name and Contact Information
-Skills/Qualifications
-Past Work Experience
-Education
-Awards/Certifications (if applicable)

Resumes should not:

-Contain the words “I” and “my”
-Be written in full sentences
-Be over a page in length

Rather than making a general resume listing every job you have held and all your skills, it is important to tailor your resume to each job you are applying for. Carefully read each job description to pick out the key skills and qualifications the employer is seeking. Then incorporate whichever of these credentials you have into a resume for that specific position. Make sure to bullet text and keep phrases succinct and focused.

Cover Letters allow you to express your interest in the specific position you are applying for, demonstrate your knowledge of the company, and share what uniquely qualifies you above other candidates.

Just as with resumes, cover letters should be tailored to each position you apply for. Keep cover letters short and to the point. Do not be afraid to use bullet points to highlight your qualifications. Ensure your contact information is included and end the letter by thanking the reader for their consideration.

Job Searching can be done effectively online or offline.

Online job search engines, such as Indeed and Simply Hired, aggregate job postings from all over the web and allow job seekers to narrow their search by location and keywords. And Andrew Hudson’s Job List has a section dedicated specifically to bilingual jobs.

If you would rather job search offline, Mi Casa TalentSource is a Denver staffing agency specializing in connecting bilingual workers to customer service, administration and accounting positions.

Hitting the pavement in professional clothes with copies of your resume and cover letter and inquiring about job openings can also prove successful if you are searching for retail or restaurant jobs. Often these establishments do not post open positions due to high turnover rates.

Keep Positive Remember that though job searching can be very discouraging, it is vital to keep hopeful and continue applying for openings.

Most importantly, keep a positive attitude. Set yourself a goal of applying to several jobs a day and give yourself a day off to rest when you start to feel burned out.

Additional Resources

To make a personal appointment for free resume and cover letter help or job search assistance, call Mi Casa’s Innovation Lab at 303-388-8213. To learn more about Mi Casa TalentSource call 303-539-5691. For other job searching tips visit CareerBuilder.com.

Posted in Career Center, Career Development | Leave a comment