HOUSTON – For some students in Houston, music, art, dance or theater programming may not always be available in school. However, one community-based non-profit organization is committed to underserved youth and adults in the city.
Known as the Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts (MECA), the organization founded by Alice Valdez provides cultural programming, education resources, community building and events to more than 4,000 students and families each year.
With a mission to help build discipline, self-esteem and cultural pride, MECA founder and Executive Director Alice Valdez has proudly served our community for more than 40 years.
Born in El Paso, Texas, Alice Valdez began her music career in elementary school.
“My mother decided that all of us were going to play instruments," recalled Valdez, founder of MECA.
Valdez began with the clarinet and picked up the oboe in middle school. It wasn’t until college when she began focusing on her career in music with the help of her college professor.
“I started taking oboe lessons from Mr. Henderson from the University of Texas-El Paso. He was the theory teacher and the oboe teacher there," stated Valdez. “He was just such a strong influence and such a wonderful educator that he really influenced me to go study art and music education.”
With a dedication to the arts and music education, Valdez would begin a new opportunity in Houston with a focus on minorities and underprivileged communities in the Sixth Ward.
“Some schools had a band, some schools had orchestras, some schools didn’t have a band or orchestras. All they had was maybe visual art and general music," said Valdez. "Obviously, the suburban schools had much stronger programs, and the inner city programs where the population was more disenfranchised had the weaker programs. It just didn’t make sense to me why this was not the same across the board.”
In 1977, with the support of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church’s pastor, Father Sam Robles, MECA was organized from the church’s Fun 'n Food Fest. In 1993, MECA moved to its current home in the historic Dow School building in the Sixth Ward.
For more than four decades, MECA has provided artistic programming, educational resources and services to underserved students and adults. While not all students venture into the arts after their program, they do develop disciplinary skills to help with their future careers.
“My theory was that a student who puts time and effort into becoming a well-disciplined musician or artist, that discipline is going to fall into their academic studies," said Valdez.
Although the organization welcomes students from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and communities, Valdez puts a heavy focus on the Latino community, helping students stay on track and providing resources they might not have access to.
“We really have a strong mission, that it’s not just the arts that we have to train our kids, it’s academics. We have to break the cycle," stated Valdez. “Because right now Latinos are the highest population that are not doing well in public schools. Every student comes in we have, they have to show us their report cards, and if they are failing, they can’t perform.”
Valdez’s leadership isn’t just at MECA. She is heavily involved with other organizations in Houston and has received numbers of accolades for her services. Valdez is a member of the American Leadership Forum and is a coordinator of the Arts and Culture Careers Panel for Houston Hispanic Forum.
Valdez continues to lead MECA and take on new leadership roles in the community, continuing art programming through several organizations. With more than 40 years of educational programming, Valdez hopes to see future generations be part of her organization and hopes for her students to thrive and one day support the organization that once supported them.
“When you see the second generation coming in, that says everything that they were so comfortable and happy here that they’re bringing in their children now," said Valdez. "I mean, that’s wonderful. That’s a great legacy in my opinion.”
Today MECA’s programs are nationally recognized for producing talented student artists. Students from the program have pursued higher education at institutions such as Julliard School of Music, Berklee College of Music, Dillard University, Maryland School of the Arts and so many more.
MECA provides numerous events year-long including summer camps, mastery courses, art exhibits, artist performances and a Dia De Los Muertos Festival.
To learn more about Valdez’s leadership, support MECA or be a part of the program, you can visit its website here.