Category Archives: Success Story

Alyssa

IMAG0812ALYSSA

To the left is Alyssa, proudly capturing one of her first days as Medical Records Supervisor at the hospice center where she has worked for over two years. Alyssa started out as a nursing assistant after graduating from the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program. She was hired within three months of completing the program and has since received two pay raises and, most recently, this promotion to Medical Records Supervisor.

Life has not always gone so smoothly for Alyssa, though. She dropped out of college and, as a single mother to an infant son, had to rely on government aid in the form of TANF, Medicaid, and SNAP (food stamps).

It was one day when Alyssa took her then one-year-old son to the library that she saw Community Action’s flyer for the CNA program. Alyssa, loving to learning and wanting “a certificate in everything,” contacted our Career Pathways Coordinator, Francesca Ramirez, who quickly enrolled her in the CNA program.

“I was really grateful to Francesca,” says Alyssa,” She was always very supportive and helpful.” Even when Alyssa had to bring her playful one-year-old into the office, Francesca “was very understanding” and would find something to distract him. Our Career Pathways Coordinator and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), who helped in Alyssa’s path with the CNA Program, even helped her find childcare for her son while she attended classes.

Since completing the CNA Program, Alyssa has really shone with her work and was recently even promoted to a position that typically requires at least an Associate’s degree. Alyssa is now also completely free of any form of federal financial support and says that she wants to take advantage of Community Action’s College Prep Academy. She even referred a friend of hers to see Francesca, and he seemed “very encouraged and excited” after their meeting.

Alyssa remains grateful for the help that she has received: “I’m thankful for the opportunities [Community Action] provides. Without that step in the door, I wouldn’t be on this rise to success.”

John

JOHN*

“We don’t know what we would have done if Stacey hadn’t shown up in our lives at that time,” notes John as he describes the struggles he and his partner went through after being diagnosed as HIV positive in early 2010.

John, who did not have health insurance at the time, was hospitalized due to trouble breathing right after Christmas in 2009. Initially the doctors thought that he had bacterial pneumonia, but eventually test results confirmed that John was HIV positive and in the stages of AIDS; his white blood cell count had gotten down to 17.

After this diagnosis, a case worker at the hospital referred John to Stacey, the RASP (Rural AIDS Services Program) Case Management Coordinator at Community Action. John remembers that Stacey was, “very nice from the very beginning- very open and honest”.

Stacey was able to help out John and his partner, who had also tested as HIV positive, by giving them gift cards for groceries and gasoline as they struggled to manage hospital fees, car payments, and other bills. While John was in the hospital for a whole month recovering, Stacey also helped him to find an oxygen tank that he would need during recovery. At this time, John also became depressed, largely as a result of his diagnosis. Stacey was able to connect him with a local therapist who helped John through that tough time.

Since then, John has gone on disability and has taken proactive steps to improve his health, like quitting smoking, incorporating light exercise into his lifestyle, watching his diet, and taking krill oil to combat the high cholesterol that he was dealing with as a result of his medication. His white blood cell count is now in the mid 550’s.

John says that when he comes to the Community Action office, our receptionist, “greets everyone with the biggest smile when they come in”. John has also worked with Daniel, another RASP Case Manager, and several RASP interns throughout his years of association with Community Action and thinks that, “everyone here has just been fantastic”.

*The name of this individual has been changed due to privacy concerns

Elizabeth and Yaretzi

ELIZABETH and YARETZI

IMG_0333Yaretzi, now two years old, began attending our Early Head Start Program at Lockhart CDC in September of 2013. Elizabeth, Yaretzi’s mother, knew about the program from sending her older daughter, Itza, who is six years old, to Lockhart CDC three years ago. Elizabeth says that she first found out about the Early Head Start program from friends and family who encouraged her to enroll her children in the program.

The biggest way that the Early Head Start Program has helped Elizabeth is through the support that they offer. Elizabeth, whose own parents help her out by picking up or dropping off her two girls at school sometimes, says that the staff at Lockhart is, “like a family”.

Specifically, Elizabeth, who is pursuing a degree in bilingual early education from Texas State University, knows that she can count on the teachers at Lockhart when life gets too busy between the responsibilities of being a student and a mother to two young girls. The staff at the child development center remind Elizabeth when Yaretzi needs to have a check up with the doctor and have even helped Elizabeth take care of her own medical needs. They reminded her about getting a meningitis shot that she needed to attend school and even offered to send someone with her to the appointment. The Early Head Start staff also referred Elizabeth to our health clinic, which she has since visited.

Elizabeth and her family have also found the parent information sessions offered at Lockhart CDC to be very helpful. Specifically, she has learned a lot about how to deal with Yaretzi’s picky eating, a problem she did not encounter with older daughter, Itza. The Lockhart CDC staff has also been working with the family on potty training, and Yaretzi, under the “two week contract” now says when she needs to use the restroom. The Early Head Start staff have also helped Elizabeth find and set up a proper car seat for Yaretzi.

Beyond all the specifics that the Early Head Start staff have done to help out this family, the level of support they offer is invaluable. Elizabeth knows that, “if I had a problem I could come to one of them”.

Alexa

ALEXA

Alexa

Alexa first became a GED student when she was 15. Ten years and five children later, she earned her GED after working with the dedicated Community Action staff.  Alexa quit when she was 18 and had her first child. Over the next 6 years, Alexa would return to Workforce Solutions for a period of time before taking time off with each new child. It wasn’t until after the birth of her fourth child that she felt like the time was right to get it done. “That was when I finally had the push, like, to do it.”

Alexa returned to class in January 2012 with more determination than ever before to complete her GED. After initial hesitation and self-doubt, she took her first exam in May. She passed, and after successfully clearing the first hurdle she had the confidence that she needed to move forward and take the remaining four exams. Alexa passed her final exam in October 2012.

Raising four children while working towards her GED was not an easy task, but Alexa had a strong support system in her family and the staff at Workforce Solutions.  Her teacher, Tim, has been an incredible source of motivation for her. “Tim, he never gives up on me… And he’s the one who’s gotten me this far…he has gotten me to where I am today and the person I am today…He pushed me and he would tell me…you can do it, you can do it. ” 

Earning her GED has given Alexa a newfound sense of empowerment. “Now even if I go into the bank, just to cash a check, I’m like, I could work here now! I can really work here. A couple weeks ago I wouldn’t be able to work here because I wouldn’t have any education. But now I can actually say, hey, I have my GED can I put an application in? And before I couldn’t do that.”

Alexa radiates confidence in herself and has a vision for her future that she didn’t prior to receiving her GED. She now plans on attending nursing classes at ACC and transferring into a program at UT to become either a midwife or an Ob/Gyn. Workforce Solutions has helped her navigate through that process. She learned about courses and degrees offered at ACC and UT as well as financing options that are available to her. Her children inspire her to keep pushing towards her goals. “My kids, they keep me going, they really do. They really do keep me going and wanting to do this, ‘cause now I can tell them, ‘Mommy got her GED. I got it, I did it, but you do it the easier way. I did it the hard way, now you do it the easier way. “

2014 Update: Alexa is now in the ACC Registered Nurse Program and recently served on a panel at an ACC event for GED students who are looking into community college opportunities.

Beatrice

BEATRICE

Beatrice

Beatrice first came to the Gonzales Learning and Career Center in 2007 intending to learn how to use a computer in order to advance her writing (Beatrice is a poet). Beatrice didn’t even know how to turn on a computer so after seeing an ad in the paper, Beatrice started going to the GLCC. Beatrice would drop in and out of the Center, coming for a few months at a time and then stopping for a few months. That changed earlier in 2012, when Beatrice was given a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goals template. The goal sheets have motivated her to take control of her academic future.

Beatrice has a high school diploma but feels that she did not receive a good education when she was younger. “When I was a child I was led to believe that I didn’t have the ability to learn. But I am smart. And I can learn. So that’s what keeps me coming here.” Using the SMART goals, Beatrice is learning the basics over again and preparing herself for college.  She spent the past year learning geography and will start studying math in January. Learning has opened up the world for Beatrice. She explained how now when she watches TV and the news mentions a foreign country she knows exactly where it is and she isn’t lost anymore.

Beatrice has responsibilities that no other student at the GLCC has. Beatrice is an administrator of the GLCC Facebook page where she asks the Family Feud questions. She has LearnerWeb training (a learning support software system for adult education designed to help students meet specific needs and objectives), and now helps other students learn how to use the computer. Helping others like her is what Beatrice enjoys most about the GLCC “Because I was just like them at one time. Scared and timid and afraid and felt dumb.” Beatrice has come full circle from where she was when she first walked in the doors of the GLCC five years ago. Glowing, Beatrice told me how a new student at the center calls Beatrice her ‘mentor’. “It makes me feel real good.”

Beatrice is full of confidence in herself and her abilities to learn and go to college. “After this I know that in the fall I can go make an application at Victoria College and pass and sit down in one of the chairs at the school.” The Gonzales Learning and Career Center gave Beatrice hope for herself and her future and she expressed deep gratitude for the center and its staff: “The doors are never closed. [They are] very patient and very kind. They don’t rush you. They’re there for you. And the encouragement is above the most important thing.” Beatrice is surely an inspiration to the other students at the GLCC. “This year I just want to make it…and let other people know there is hope and there is life if you really want it.”

Eunice

EUNICE

eunice

Eunice grew up doing everything right. She worked hard, got good grades, participated in extracurricular activities and made the honor roll. When her school sponsored college tours, she went on most of them, and dreamed about being a college student. But when Eunice graduated she learned that was not eligible for any scholarships or financial aid because she was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was eleven years old and was not a legal U.S. citizen. When she found out that she could not get any financial aid and her parents couldn’t afford to send her, “It was heartbreaking.” Eunice looked around at her friends and classmates who did not work as hard as she did but were able to go to college. “I…actually did my homework and I didn’t cheat but there were no scholarships for me…it was heartbreaking to see that all that I did in high school was going to be of no use.” So Eunice did not go to college after graduating high school and she and her husband decided to get married instead and shortly after their first child was born.

Eunice now lives in Texas with her husband and three children. In 2010, Eunice’s children were enrolled in Community Action’s Head Start program where she learned about the Adult Education program. Community Action’s Adult Ed teachers in Luling helped get Eunice ready to take classes at Austin Community College. Community Action career counselor, Francesca Ramirez, helped Eunice apply for financial aid through TASFA (Texas Application for State Financial Aid) which grants students without legal status some money to attend school at a Texas institution. With this and some additional financial help from Community Action, Eunice was able to attend three semesters at ACC.  Eunice was very excited about returning to school. “It’s seven years later and I finally see the results of my high school years. Because I couldn’t go to the university that I wanted to so I was so happy when I started going to community college and y’all (Community Action) gave me the boost by paying for my summer classes.”

Eunice is not currently in school because her third child was born in February 2012, but finishing her education remains her major goal. She knows that it may take her a few more years to achieve her degree, but that isn’t discouraging her. “Time is still going to go by, whether I go to school or not. If it takes me ten years to complete my degree, those ten years are gonna go by either way.”

In September, Eunice submitted her application for Deferred Action under the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Her application included dozens of documents that proved her presence in the United States since she was eleven years old ranging from middle school transcripts and school IDS to birth certificates of her children. In November, Eunice was granted employment authorization. The employment authorization does not change her legal status so she is still not eligible for financial aid or scholarships but she now has the ability to work to pay for her education if she chooses. Eunice is an intelligent, determined and inspirational young woman. She is an inspiration to all immigrants who wish to become U.S. citizens and continue their education. Community Action has no doubt that she will succeed in her future academic endeavors and career.

Elijio

ELIJIO

Eljiio

Elijio grew up in a very large family with seven sisters and nine brothers. As a child, he only passed second grade but even then he and his siblings would only go to school for a month or two at a time before leaving to go work in the fields. “We were working in the fields all the time. I worked hard since I was seven years old.” Because Elijio only had a couple years of formal education, he never learned how to read or write.  Elijio’s illiteracy had a negative effect on his life. He was unable to fill out forms, and he never paid much attention to street signs.

Elijio started taking ESL classes at the Kyle Learning Center last year after he retired. “I really wanted to learn how to read…I said, well I’m gonna try it. I don’t think it’s never late.”Elijio admits that learning how to read and write is more difficult than he thought it would be, but that isn’t stopping him from trying.  “I keep going…I don’t give up.”

Since he has started to learn to read, life has become a little easier for Elijio. He is able to read more of the forms that he has to fill out and it is easier to navigate around town now that he can read the street signs. After he has learned to read, Elijio would like to learn how to use the computer so that he can go to school to become an automotive technician.  Elijio appreciates the kind and dedicated instructors at the Kyle Learning Center for being so patient as he works to achieve his goal. 

San Marcos Seniors

SAN MARCOS SENIORS

seniors

“I can’t stay away from here,” says Maria, a regular at the San Marcos Senior Citizens Center for the past four years. “I’m happy here. I have no complaints about this place or the ladies working here…they’re real nice.”

The San Marcos Senior Citizens Center is growing in popularity. Nearly 30 seniors visit the center each day to eat breakfast and lunch, socialize and participate in activities. The center provides a much needed and appreciated place for seniors to gather with their friends and get out of the house. When Maria first started coming to the center she was struggling with depression and experiencing suicidal thoughts. The center will occasionally bring in social workers to talk with the seniors and they helped Maria realize that she still had joys in life to live for.

Center activities include field trips, light exercise and memory or repetition games. These games in particular have helped Victoria. Victoria had forgotten numbers and through the games she regained that memory and can recite numbers once again.

The staff at the Senior Citizens Center continues to bring joy into the lives of the seniors that attend. They make them feel valued, appreciated and respected and the seniors do not hesitate in expressing their gratitude. Frank says, “I thank God that we have this place and that [the staff] cares about [us]…This is very helpful to us. Viola’s (the center director) attitude and the other people that are here is wonderful.” Another woman agrees. “I am very comfortable here…it’s like I am at home. Everything is beautiful here the way that people make me feel.”

Amanda and John

AMANDA & JOHN’S FAMILY

Amanda_john

Giana (1 year), Amanda, Anaya (3 years) and John

“All four of us are in school!” Amanda proudly proclaims. She is referring to herself, her husband, John, and their two daughters, Anaya (3 years) and Gianna (1 year). Anaya has been enrolled in Head Start since September of 2012 and Gianna started Early Head Start at the beginning of this year.

Amanda knew about the Community Action Head Start program in Lockhart because her little brother was enrolled twenty years ago.  Amanda’s own children have only been enrolled for a handful of months but already Amanda and John are noticing big differences in their daughters. “Their vocabulary has broadened…Anaya knows how to count to ten in Spanish and she counts to twenty [in English].” The girls have not only advanced academically, but emotionally as well. “Anaya used to be really shy. She wouldn’t want to talk to anybody and now she’s like, ‘Mom! I have a lot of friends!’”

With both girls enrolled in Head Start, Amanda and John were able to return to school. Amanda started taking classes part time at ACC-Riverside. “I wasn’t too serious about going back to school after I graduated from high school. I really wasn’t planning on having a family. But, you know, having my kids and seeing how hard it is just working minimum wage made me want to do better.” She is hoping to enroll full-time in the fall. John said that that the Community Action, Inc. staff gave him that “little extra push” he needed to get started on preparing for his GED. “It’s just been so long since I’ve been in high school and having kids at a young age it was rough at first. I tried doing school before and I couldn’t do it. I was working two jobs and trying to do school and I just couldn’t do it. So I had to hold off on school because we had to be financially stable.” But with his daughters in Head Start, he has a little extra time to put towards GED preparation. He is hoping that he will be ready to take the exams in a month.

The whole family being in school has been a “good bonding experience” for them, John says. Anaya is excited about the whole family being in school. “She’ll wake up in the morning and be like, ‘We gotta get ready for school! Mom, get your backpack!’” Anaya observes her parents and learns from their example.  She told her teacher “when I’m an adult I will go to college like my mommy.” John feels that returning to school to get his education benefits himself as well as daughters. “It gives me more confidence and I know that I can do this for my kids and for me…I can be a better a role model for them.”  

Claudia

CLAUDIA’S FAMILY

Claudia

Claudia and her son, Sebastian

Claudia has been working with the Community Action Head Start program in Lockhart for the past four years. She learned about the program when she was taking ESL classes at the Lockhart Adult Learning Center. Three of Claudia’s four children have taken advantage of the program and she says that she can see the difference the program has had on her children.

Angela, her oldest daughter, is seven now and a Head Start graduate. Angela, Claudia explains, is more academically inclined, her English pronunciation is more American and she is better able to solve problems and come up with her own solutions as compared to her older brother. Sebastian, Claudia’s three-year old, is currently enrolled in Head Start and Claudia says that he prefers to play outside, read, or color over watching TV, while her oldest son is a TV watcher. She credits this difference to the Head Start program. Because Claudia’s three youngest children participated in the Head Start program they are prepared to be challenged academically in pre-K and beyond. She is confident that all of her children will be successful, but that her younger three will not struggle as much because they have the benefit of being Head Start graduates.

Head Start has made a difference in Claudia’s life as well. While her children are in Head Start, Claudia was able to earn her GED last July and she is still attending ESL classes. “It’s [easier] because I’m not concerned about where are my kids, or who is watching my kids. I know they are safe here.” Belma, Claudia’s family advocate, has been a great resource for Claudia and her family. “She is friendly, all the time she is asking questions: what are you doing? Are you okay? Do you need something? She is really, really friendly.” When Claudia was pregnant, Belma provided resources about pre-natal care and instructed Claudia in parent education classes as well. Head Start parent education classes are held once per month and they cover a range of topics including how to manage stress, how to budget, how to provide proper nutrition for children and how to teach math at home.

Claudia values the experience that she has had with Community Action’s Head Start. “The teachers are very friendly and they are very nurturing…and Belma is very friendly. She helps me all the time.”