SAN ANTONIO — It's an odd name, but a great deal.

They call it HPOG, which stands for Health Profession Opportunity Grants, a program offering free job training to help people pull themselves out of poverty.

Petra Perez enrolled in a medical assistant class and said she liked the program so much she recruited two of her nephews to take advantage of the free services.

“I'm going to get a better-paying job," Perez said, adding that her children are proud of her decision to return to school.

Of her 10-year-old daughter, Perez said “She's excited about it! Mom's going to school. She tells everybody at school about it."

Perez said she wants to provide a better future for her family and the benefits were just too good to ignore.

“They offer child care, and that's really important to me because I have two kids right now and daycare is very expensive," she said. "They offer free childcare and it makes it easy for me to come to school every day."

At the halfway mark, Perez said meeting the course requirements has not been hard.

“For me it's easy. Anything I need extra help with, they're willing to help me with it, and if I'm not getting something or I don't understand something, they're willing to help me understand it. And they offer tutoring if I'm not getting the information, so it's really easy and they have a lot of resources to help me,” Perez said.

There is a new group starting August 5 for certified nursing assistant, and in September there will be new classes for medical assistants at campus locations in west and east San Antonio.

There are also classes ongoing for medical front office work and pharmacy technicians. 

CNA courses last three months, while the others last six. 

"We have free tuition, obviously. Free books. Free uniforms. Free school supplies. We do transportation assistance, child care assistance, all of the things that they need to be successful as they go through the program," said Laurie Rios, a case manager with HPOG and senior adviser with Alamo Colleges. 

There are income restrictions and other qualifiers, but the rewards, they said, will extend far into the future for a student population that may have known failure in the past.

“My favorite thing about this program is seeing students who have tried college so many times and not be successful," Rios said. "Because life gets in the way, and there's no one there to help them. We can give them those resources. We can say, 'Oh, you don't have child care for the summer? Let's pay for that. Oh, you're behind on rent? Let's help you so you can stay focused on school.’”

Rios said the local program is part of a national effort that has helped more than 43,000 people become more self-sufficient over the last five years.

Meanwhile, Perez said she is focused on the finish line.

"My kids are going to see that I graduated and got a certificate, and it's going to motivate them to go to school as well," she said.

Rios said the application process is not very complicated, but it takes three to four weeks to process all the requirements, so now is the time to apply for the next round of classes.

Rios added they have students in all age groups. Some are just out of high school, but they are also seeing multi-generational groups of students as grandparents are signing up for training to help support their extended families.

“We're seeing more dual-generation families," she said. "Grandparents are raising grandchildren and they need the extra income and everyone is pulling their weight for the family.” 

Rios said they have brothers and cousins in the current class groups and they are able to support and encourage each other.

“Our goal is removing all barriers. If they're not being successful, we intervene early and offer additional support so they have a chance to be successful.
We are a multi-chance program,” Rios said.

Every Tuesday at 9 a.m., HPOG hosts free informational sessions. Anyone interested can call (210)485-0848 for more information.

The east and west campus locations have separate Facebook pages.

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