Q & A with Mission Language and Vocational School
Kim Reyes sat down with MLVS Executive Director, Daniel Brajkovich to explore how MLVS works on a day to day and their goals for the upcoming years. This Mission institution, located on 19th and Florida has been helping the community for decades. Together, Noise Pop and MLVS want to put a spotlight on the Mission, both its history and how we can support our beloved community.
KR: How were instructors and students selected in the earlier years at MLVS, and how does the application process work today?
DB: As a community-based organization, we live and breathe through interactions of all sorts in all sectors, with the people that live and work in the community. Students, in that regard, and instructors, for the most part, come to MLVS very organically: through word of mouth and closeness, so that a seemingly complex set of scenarios really inform something very simple. We are bonded to the community through the languages and cultures that represent Latino heritage from all over the Spanish speaking world. To over 40,000 former students that MLVS has placed in jobs over its history, our lineage is concrete, with an eye toward the future of Latino and immigrant communities throughout San Francisco who need job training, and who are interested in helping others toward that goal.
KR: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of running a non-profit neighborhood organization?
DB: The biggest reward has to be knowing that our work benefits others, that perhaps without MLVS, many would not have had the educational opportunities and careers they have now. The benefits of the jobs students at MLVS receive have a tremendous ripple effect: not only are we doing workforce development, but in many ways it is community development and community reinvestment. When students are placed in good jobs with opportunities for advancement in those jobs, their income benefits not just them, but their kids, their immediate families, abuelo/as, and tío/as. The living unit that they are in becomes more sustainable, and the expendable income that a former student now has begins to be reinvested in the things they consume in their neighborhood, which contributes to the sustainability of many of San Francisco’s Latin and immigrant communities.
The number one challenge is always finding the resources in nonprofit environments. There is never enough funding for our students, simply because of the needs our students have for tutors, for materials, for support services; but also technology in the job market, in San Francisco and the Bay Area in general, advances quickly, and so for the training to stay technologically relevant, MLVS constantly has to reach out and strive to provide computers, monitors, and other agents of technology in the modern workplace. The majority of MLVS funding for our workforce development programs simply does not cover the costs for 6-month and 9- month vocational programs that do not work to just put a “Band-Aid” on barriers to employment; rather we look at training in a holistic view for both soft skills and hard skills, while also dealing with immigration, legal issues, transportation, and childcare, which are further barriers around employment that MLVS looks to assist our students remove, helping them towards long-term solutions and viability.
KR: How can San Francisco residents, especially transplants, give back to and support the local community that MLVS is incorporated in?
DB: Many fail to realize that a good portion of the equity, or value, in the neighborhoods, especially in the City’s Mission and Southeast Quadrant, was driven by generations of Latinos, other immigrant groups, and people of color. Before it was cool or chic or desirable to live in the Mission, for example, there were generations before that paid rents, saved to own, and built the diverse, eclectic, and authentic neighborhoods that transplants value so much.
It begs the question: would the Mission be so desirable for transplants, if instead it had neighbors that looked like them, thought like them, had the same values, and the same lifestyle? Perhaps rhetorical in nature, but my point is MLVS represents much of the history in and around the Mission, and seeks to keep the community with opportunities to live and work in San Francisco; in this way, our neighborhood(s) stay diverse, and have a compelling narrative from which we all benefit. Donations, sponsorships, giving, and supporting community-based organizations (CBO’s) like MLVS are a big part of sustaining the diverse communities we all value so much.
KR: What inspires MLVS to continue the mission and legacy of former executive director, Rosario Anaya?
DB: Well, Rosario is an iconic figure in the Mission District and for the Latino community here in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Rosario’s vision, courage, and forty plus years of working and advocating for the Latino, immigrant, and underserved in San Francisco, is unparalleled. Probably one of the most compelling thoughts on Rosario’s legacy, and what inspires us to keep training and advocating, is encompassed in the idea that those 40,000 people MLVS has placed in jobs in many ways created a Latino middle class in San Francisco; in all walks of life and nearly every industry you will find an MLVS graduate. I can’t think of a more impactful career, and large scale accomplishment at that. I can’t think of any others that would have such a tremendous imprint. Rosario still inspires us every day.
KR: What are the institution's goals for the next 5 years? 10?
DB: So many things to discuss here, but the primary goal is to add programming that continues to address the labor market in healthcare and hospitality, but we are also very much wanting to provide programs that address the “new digital divide” and train up into the SF Bay Area’s tech economies. When we look at the numbers of some of the larger tech employees and see minorities representing less than 5% of the workforce, it is strikingly sad to see the community at large not being included in the wealth and prosperity of the tech industry. One of the general concepts in our goal-setting is to create models of inclusion, of opportunity, and to create and retain funding for programs that evolve to fill these great opportunity gaps
KR: Noise Pop is really excited about the expansion and partnering with MLVS for this year's block party. What is MLVS most excited about for this year's community event?
DB: The opportunity to work with and introduce MLVS to a wider audience, as well as raise the necessary funds to bolster and continue community-based vocational and educational programs. I want people when they drive by the Centro Social Obrero sign (the group of Mexican laborers that started MLVS and Laborer’s Local Union 261), which still hangs in front of the MLVS building, to understand where it comes from and why it’s there, and see that sign in the context of our very much changing neighborhood, and share in the pride we have had in this neighborhood since 1968. I want newcomer, or transplant, segments of the community to see MLVS, to share and understand the history of the Mission and what it means to take the hurt out of our neighbors being evicted, priced out, or sold out, and turn that into opportunity for reinvestment, for growth, and for a future in which shared prosperity goes beyond a good idea, and becomes good jobs at livable wages. Again, it’s an inclusion model; it’s exciting to take the immense human energy in the building dedication and festival, and unleash that for a good time and a good cause.