It’s easy to pick up produce at your nearby grocery store without wondering who helped get that food into your hands. Lettuce is still just lettuce, no matter what wages the workers make, right?
With its mission to provide assistance to low-income farm workers, the ORO Development Corporation does not forget the hardworking individuals behind those full shopping carts. The nonprofit organization provides training, employment and affordable housing assistance, among other services, to help agricultural workers become self-sufficient and productive community members.
Executive director Jorge Martinez says that the approach to teach their clients skills has dramatic results.
“When a worker comes to us, they might make $10,000 a year or less. After they come to ORO and go through our training programs, when they finish and get a job, they can make upwards of $50,000 a year,” Martinez says. “That provides better education for their kids, and then they can actually live up to the American dream.”
Since its inception in 1971 when the organization received a small grant, the focus of ORO (Oklahoma Rural Opportunities) has changed quite drastically, Martinez says, evolving to a measurable-results model and then making difficult budget decisions.
“We cut our overhead costs substantially, and now the money being saved (translates to) more services for the farm workers,” he says.
These services provided are very diverse, says Director of Field Operations Herminia Castillo, from nursing and trucking trainings offered in Altus to new wind energy programs in the Oklahoma City area.
“The programs are determined by the needs that are already in the area,” Castillo says.
Case managers on staff do outreach in their communities, but when one farm worker finds success, word gets around, Castillo says.
“We also get a lot of our clients through word of mouth,” she says. “When one good thing happens to one person, it spreads like wildfire.”
Martinez explains that these triumphs stem from ORO’s unique approach.
“ORO has been successful because we do extensive follow-up with our clients,” he says. “We let them know that we’re investing government money in them and that we’re going to be talking to them a lot.”
Last year, the ORO staff of 11 helped 235 workers improve their lives.
“If someone looks at the ORO and our results, and our record since 1971, it’s clear we’re doing something right,” Martinez says.
Martinez should know; he himself succeeded with ORO’s programs, rising from a farm worker to executive director of the nonprofit.