Thirty-seven years ago, Socorro Brito de Anda agreed to temporarily help out Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas, agreeing to work three months in the business office of the United Methodist private school.
And she’s never left.
Retiring this summer, longtime Lydia Patterson president de Anda talked to conference communications director Todd Seifert for an episode of his “In Layman’s Terms” podcast.
Founded in 1913, Lydia Patterson is located eight blocks from the bridge across the border to Juarez, Mexico, where many of the students live and travel from each day.
“We take these young men and women, we put them through high school, teach them English, prepare them for college, and send them off to college,” de Anda told Seifert. “It is an amazing, amazing ministry that changes the lives of these students.”
One-third of the student body receives some type of financial assistance, she said, many of whom work at the school to earn their scholarship. With congestion on the walking bridge over the border, students have to leave home as much as four hours before classes begin.
“You never, ever hear them complain,” de Anda said. “To them, this is part of their education, part of their journey. And they do it every day.”
Lydia Patterson Institute is a ministry of the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church, a region of 12 annual conferences in eight states that includes the Great Plains Conference.
de Anda said financial and spiritual support from the conferences are vital to the mission of Lydia Patterson.
“Those relationships are extremely, extremely important,” she said. “We have a large number of churches in the jurisdiction that provide scholarships over and above what they pay for their apportionments.”
Churches in the jurisdiction provide internships and partnerships for the Lydia Patterson graduates who attend the United Methodist churches in their areas. Nebraska Wesleyan University and Southwestern College in Winfield are among the colleges that provide scholarships to graduates.
Many times, de Anda said, the students help establish or strengthen Hispanic ministries in the churches.
“Everybody wins,” she said. “They get to go to college, the university gets the commitment to work with the local church, and the local church gets the resource to develop Hispanic ministries or use the students in any way.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic greatly altered the course of education in 2020, de Anda said it was a relatively easier adjustment for Lydia Patterson students because for several years the school had 14 all-digital classrooms — no textbooks — and all students have digital tablets.
“We actually went from classroom teaching to online teaching within 24 hours,” she said. “We were the only school in El Paso that was able to do that.”
De Anda arrived at Lydia Patterson in 1984, when a similar United Methodist school in Laredo had recently closed and the El Paso school appeared to be headed in the same direction. The school was going through “serious problems,” she said, with the worst educational evaluations in its history coupled with an extreme devaluation of the exchange rate for the Mexican currency, the peso.
“We went to work, we rolled up our sleeves, and we said we’ve got to do whatever it takes, but Lydia Patterson cannot close,” de Anda recalled.
A longtime Lydia Patterson board member and retired Great Plains clergy, the Rev. Larry Moffet said de Anda was the right person to help the school survive and thrive.
“It was in a serious crisis,” Moffet, a board member for 25 years, told Seifert from his home in Kansas City, Missouri. “Socorra not only understood life on both sides of the border and how to talk about that with people on both sides of the border, she understood the finance needs and how to get busy and make connections with people all around The United Methodist Church so the future of Lydia Patterson could be assured.”
De Anda has made a monumental difference for Lydia Patterson, Moffet said, which in turn has made huge differences in the lives of hundreds of students who have graduated during her time.
“It would be impossible to overstate her legacy,” he said.
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