IT'S BEEN A LONG ROAD for Ignacio Salazar, one that has taken him from Texas, to Michigan and back to Texas.
His family started as migrant farm workers, making the long trip north. Back then, few would imagine that Salazar would one day become the head of one of the largest non-profit, employment training agencies in the country that serves Hispanics.
SER, which stand for Service, Employment and Redevelopment (it also means "to be" in Spanish), has programs for training not only employees of all ages, but also helps families with their children's studies across 18 states. Innumerable people, according to government entities like the Department of Labor, have been helped in their job skills and employment by SER.
"Now we start from birth all the way to the last person who is ready to call it the end of the line," Salazar says.
Last year, SER celebrated 50 years. In addition to the myriads who have emerged from SER's programs, there have been many alumni's like Congressman Joe Baca, who worked for its Los Angeles office; over a million people go through the SER offices every year.
"That's a big step from where we first began," Salazar says.
Salazar recalls that his family, which did the long trek from Texas up north, stayed in Michigan by accident. An aunt became ill while the family worked in the fields, so the group had to scrounge some money amongst them to pay for the high-cost surgery.
"That changed the course of everyone's life. They didn't just stay there, they ended up permanently living there," Salazar says.
In time, Salazar ended up in college, attending the University of Michigan, where he became assistant director of admissions and scholarships. Along the way he worked with farmworkers until in 1975, a friend asked him to take over SER in Detroit, which was in trouble of going under.
"I ended up being the director of an organization that didn't have anything," evokes Salazar. "We had funding for about a month."
There were seven employees who were without direction, the partially burned building had no heat and it was already November in Michigan, where the Winter months are notorious for their bitter cold.
"We had staff looking at you like 'what are we going to do?' and you're looking at them, T don't know,"' recalls Salazar with a chuckle.
Somehow, Salazar and his team managed to keep the place afloat by renewing a contract with the city and the heat was fixed, thanks to insurance protection. With the help of some friends, he managed to...