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Our Story

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Written by Ashley Heidebrecht, LMSW, DRIEP Director

Wow, 2022 has been a whirlwind of a year. As we move into planning for 2023, I'd like to take just a bit of your time to recap what has happened in this program, as well as share some plans for the future, plans which I hope you will want to be a part of.

You may or may not know this, but DRIEP is a young program, and we are part of the Borderland Rainbow Center, an LGBTQ+ nonprofit community center in El Paso, TX.

Dr. Brenda Risch (the Founder of the Borderland Rainbow Center), and Dr. Erwin (Borderland Rainbow Center Board Member), developed the idea for DRIEP in part after a successful grant-funded training program Mythbusters coordinated by Vic Doster (former Borderland Rainbow Center intern, contractor, and DRIEP Fellow).

The training program led to over 500 El Paso area providers being trained in LGBTQ+ sensitivity and best practices. However, there was a barrier. Businesses and institutions did not always want to do business with a Queer organization. And so, Dr. Risch and Dr. Erwin looked to develop an alternative; a program within the Borderland Rainbow Center that had a different, more “appealing” name, with the objective to open the door into offering valuable training and education to businesses, organizations, and institutions. And so they created the name the Diversity and Resiliency Institute of El Paso (DRIEP).

The purpose of DRIEP would be to offer continuing education to social workers and mental health professionals, as well as training to other types of institutions and organizations, with the values of inclusion and equity as the backbone, accessing government entities, universities, mental health and medical providers, and more, to ensure safety and inclusion within El Paso, and beyond.

In November of 2019, I became the first, and at that time the only, part-time contracted staff person for DRIEP. I had finished my Masters of Social work degree in August as well as my internship with the Borderland Rainbow Center, and had been working as a contracted trainer for the Mythbusters program. I spent the months of November and December designing the DRIEP logo, building the website and social media pages, developing and building 1-hour asynchronous training content, offering some in person trainings and live webinars, and promoting, promoting, promoting. DRIEP officially launched in January 2020, and we had big plans for live onsite trainings in Texas!

But as we all know, 2020 wasn't the year any of us expected or hoped for.

As lockdown began in March, that required my plans for DRIEP to change quite drastically. No in person training. The face-to-face efforts to network with providers and business came to an abrupt end. Our engagement with our online asynchronous trainings was not generating a large client base at that time, and I wasn't sure what was the best direction to pivot.

That month as COVID-19 was surging, the public was reeling with the impact of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. I decided to do a week of action on my own platform, The Radical Social Worker, designed to get white people to engage in anti-racism. As I began to compile my resources and build out that page on my personal/professional website, I connected with Dr, Risch and we decided that this was the time for DRIEP to launch Anti-Racism training. And so I took the in person 8-week Anti-Racism training I had created and facilitated as an MSW intern at the Borderland Rainbow Center in the summer of 2019 and began to create the first iteration of the asynchronous Anti-Racism training.

I reached out to people and organizations with whom I had engaged in community organizing work and activism, and cultivated relationships with, to ask their perspective on the training outline and focus, as well as their perspective on myself as a white person developing and facilitating the training. I am so very grateful to those folks for their time, their friendship, and the amazing work they do to advance racial and economic justice, and for their endorsement of the first launch of DRIEP's Anti-Racism training. Thank you to The Texas Poor People’s Campaign, Brown Berets del Chuco, and the Red Handed Warrior Society.

Then more tragedy as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were murdered. In a frenzy I worked to finish the training, recording and editing, curating, building the website pages, testing registration and automations. And then it was ready for it's May 20th launch. DRIEP launched the training that truly changed everything.

My video scripts for Anti-Racism training
My video scripts for Anti-Racism training

The Anti-Racism Training was offered for free for the general public and at a low rate of $30 for those seeking continuing education credits. Within about 45 days, participation in the training exploded. Thousands and thousands of people from around the world joined. As fall was approaching, it became clear I needed help, so we hired Veronica Camacho in the fall as our Online Assistant.

In the last few months of 2020 DRIEP became THE first stop for hundreds of people on their journey of anti-racism. We began charging a low fee of $5 for the general public. Through individuals engaging with the training, we began to receive an abundance of requests for group training and customized anti-racism training. This meant we had to develop new automations and protocols on our website, as well as purchase and create two additional websites in order to build group training portals. We also successfully helped coordinate the LGBTQ+ Border Heroes Project, and executed our first grant program, Deaf Cultural Competency training for mental health providers, with three dedicated staff: Jennifer Dahlgren, Alma Pizarro-Gould, and Denise Nunez.

Throughout the end of 2020 and the entirety of 2021, we were able to develop customized trainings and group portals for Harvard University Department of Psychology, Georgetown University Medical School, Burning Man, El Paso Electric, University of Houston Downtown, Texas Tech University, The Canadian General Consulate, as well as numerous non-profits large and small, and private companies.

2021 was a big year for DRIEP, and we needed more help.

Diana Martinez joined the team as our Education and Content Manager later in the year. Throughout 2021 we had launched multiple new trainings and collaborated with educators and professionals. We learned a lot, finetuned some processes, made some mistakes, recovered, and kept pushing forward. We had a review of our Anti-Racism training with Dr. Robert Reece, and throughout the end of 2021 we implemented recommended changes and also migrated all of our trainings over to the new course format for a more professional and user-friendly experience. We also saw the end of our Deaf Cultural Competency grant, and we were able to keep Alma on board as trainer and continue to offer Deaf Cultural Competency training. We were thrilled for Jennifer to stay on as a Fellow, and for Denise to pursue new endeavors outside of DRIEP. We were also very excited to add Dr. Reece to our team of Fellows at the beginning of 2022!

2022 has been a year of challenges. Year 3 of a global pandemic has meant maintaining relevance in a world that is now saturated with online training and a world in which people are fatigued of virtual life. We’ve been working hard to identify what campaigns and marketing bring in the most interest and how to transform interest into customers. We also began offering in person trainings and hired Dr. Hilda Ontiveros as a lead trainer for the El Paso area as we began to share space with others again, and both Hilda and I have been presenters at conferences and facilitated private solicited trainings this year. We were also thrilled to have the opportunity to work with two interns, Rocio Reyes and Lauren Jackson.

This year has also been a year of pausing and resetting. Through our first two years of existence in 2020 and 2021, DRIEP was in rapid response mode as we weren’t prepared for the massive demand for our trainings and services, and the level of sustained social crises has been difficult for all of us to manage. In many ways, our very small team figured it out as we went. 2022 has been a time of developing and refining how things work to improve our clients’ experience from start to finish, especially when it comes to group training portals and training solicitations and contracts.

As the Director this has been one of my biggest challenges. It has required seeing the bigger long-term picture for DRIEP, predicting demand and social trends, examining competitors to determine what is currently in demand and isn’t being provided that DRIEP is uniquely positioned to offer, and building the necessary infrastructure and functions on our websites to make all of this happen.

Through the work done this year to streamline our processes and with the addition of a grant program called PATHS (Providers Accessing Training on HIV Stigma), Diana has now moved into the PATHS Coordinator role as well as other roles at the BRC, and we have eliminated the Education and Content Manager position. DRIEP looks forward to Diana’s engagement as a Fellow in the coming year.

From the launch of Anti-Racism training in May to 2022 until now, we’ve developed more trainings, we’ve reached thousands and thousands of people around the world, over 60,000 in fact, and we've done a lot of learning and adapting. As we move into 2023, we are ready to LEVEL UP!

In 2023 we will be launching our Level Up campaign. We are Leveling Up what we offer, with Anti-Racist Workplace and Safe Schools cohorts, Board and Executive DEI retreats, as well as intermediate/next-level trainings based on our most popular offerings. In addition, we are launching our new group portal purchase and access process, as well as our local training booking system; all designed to make the process faster and simpler for our customers. We are inviting the public and our customers to Level Up right along with us, challenging them to look past the basics of Anti-Racism, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and the broader DEI realm, and instead to get specific.

In all of our work with individuals and organizations, we have found that when people are able to come together, share ideas, and build community, the changes we want to make feel more possible, and any barriers feel smaller. Why? Because we are able to see that other people want the same change, and the varying perspectives can inspire unique and effective solutions! Our Anti-Racist Workplace and Safe Schools workshop cohorts are designed to be collaborative and solution-focused. Participants will leave these workshops with a goal and a plan. These workshop cohorts also include access to online discussion/workgroups, where all participants can share ideas, media, and engage with each other as they work to develop and implement their plans. These groups will include structured group check-ins and resources provided throughout the year which members are encouraged to engage with. These groups will remain active for the duration of 2023, with new cohorts joining each quarter. We will be utilizing this model as well as other newly developed interactive elements to offer a more intensive and supported experience for our customers.

We have new contract clients committed to join us on this 2023 journey, and onsite trainings on the books! We want you to know we couldn't have come this far without you, and we are hopeful you'll stick with us as we work to continue impacting our community and beyond.

Happy Holidays and Warmest Wishes,

Ashley, Veronica, Alma, and Hilda

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