Last Saturday, over 200 eager community college students and high school seniors came together all with one goal: to find their way to college success.
They dived into learning how to navigate the college transfer process successfully and how to obtain a college degree in 2-3 years by being connected to the essential resources that can help them achieve their career goals.
The fair was put together by United Way of Greater Los Angeles in partnership with Los Angeles City College (LACC) and Los Angeles Technical Trade College (LATTC). It took place at the Red Shield Community Center in Pico-Union, where it became the pivotal meeting ground for local organizations to connect with students and their families to offer free health screening, financial assistance, and employment opportunities, among other resources in the community.
“The concept is that when you pull resources together, and you have the students connected, not just inside the campus, but outside the campus, it benefits them, and United Way was very generous in providing the background for it,” said Dimitrios Synoinos, Vice President of Student Services, Los Angeles Trade Tech College.
“Today we’re putting something together that will last a lifetime for the students, the opportunity to create relationships in the community because a community college belongs to the community,” Synonios said. He noted the money factor; finding financial assistance is crucial, but finding additional support within the community is the second step.
“We believe the way to success for community college students starts with being connected to essential resources such as stable housing, food, healthcare, and academic support,” said Norma Rodriguez, Director of Community Prosperity and Ownership at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I know firsthand what having access to these resources means for students. It’s crucial not just for them and their families but for their entire community, and we want to invest in those organizations that work to make sure all students can have an equal opportunity to prosper,” Rodriguez said.
Brenda Brown, Student Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator at Los Angeles City College, said community colleges offer opportunities to attain a college education despite economic barriers, especially with inflation and the soaring cost of living in Los Angeles.
“Community college offers college education, potentially for free, and also resources for books, Metro passes, food, and housing resources. Our students have multiple challenges depending on where they’re coming from, and there are communities within the community college that they can get involved with that will help support them,” Brown said during the Saturday event.
Many parents also attended the event, not just to learn how to support their children to succeed in college, but also to learn what community college offers to them.
One of those parents is Lesbia Hernandez, who came to Los Angeles 35 years ago from Guatemala. Two of her children graduated from college already, so now at 55 years old, she’s beginning her college journey at LACC. She is currently taking English as a second language (ESL) and computer skills courses, but once she’s completed those classes, she said she to continue her college education.
“I’m invested in my education. I know one day I may be back to my country and have a professional career there, such as teaching the English language and I’d like to study psychology and give back to my community “ Hernandez said. She was joined at the event by her friend and college peer, Manuela Escobar, who echoed similar sentiments of gratitude and the desire to learn and contribute to the community.
Escobar said she is grateful for everything she gets as a student at LACC. “We get all the support we need there. We don’t pay for the classes, all we have to do is to work hard. The LACC professors are caring. I look forward to learning more and helping others like me in my community.”
Keynote speaker, James Ingram, Los Angeles City Council Field Deputy and Performance Coach, shared his experience with students about his experience as a community college student at LACC student, when he moved to Los Angeles from Akron Ohio. He talked to them about how he was able to transfer to USC and obtain a master’s degree afterward.
Ingram also shared personal stories about sleeping in his car and facing many economic and emotional challenges and how he successfully overcame them.
“Some of the ways that I think community college students can be supportive is through encouragement from the professors, the counselors, the advisors, promoting the extracurricular activities, student government speech team, the clubs and also talking about internships that helped create a path to their career later on down the line. Getting those mentorships under your belt will also help contribute to a more successful educational journey,” Ingram said.
A student panel of former LACC and LATTC students also helped motivate new community college students by advising them not to get discouraged by their challenges but to find the right resources to navigate their college journey successfully.
Max Gonzalez, one of the panelists, encouraged students to feel proud of their decision to attend a community college.
“Some believe community college it’s not the ideal way to go, career path because society normalized that university is the way to go instead of community college, but that is not true,” Gonzalez said. “Community College has helped me in many ways, for example, financially, through EOPS, which is a program that helps students who are low-income with book vouchers, and meal vouchers. That helped me a lot to be independent, taking care of my rent.”
Gonzalez plans to transfer to a university and graduate from a nursing school. “I’m glad I have those options because of the great resources and help that I’ve gotten at LACC. “I’m proud to be a community college student!”
Thanks to the support of our community partners, United Way L.A. has developed a Community College Success Resource Toolkit for first-generation community college students where students can find step-by-step guidance and other support services available. Find it and download it here.
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