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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 8, 2014
‘Second Chance’ Takes Student From Incarceration to Graduation
Jorge Vasquez started his educational journey at College of the Canyons in the summer of 2012.
At the time, Vasquez was a 27-year-old single father sharing custody of his daughter, and looking to enroll in school after six years away from the classroom.
But he also had a criminal record, having previously served time at both the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail and Pitchess Detention Center for convictions related to driving under the influence.
Because of his background, Vasquez found it extremely difficult to find steady work.
Worse yet, a sudden change in his living situation had left Vasquez and his 2-year-old daughter, Miranda, essentially homeless, forcing the family to couch surf between friends and relatives throughout the summer.
“The reality of my situation finally set in when a clerk at the Department of Public Social Services asked me to write down my place of residence and all I could provide at the time was a billing address,” said Vasquez. “The clerk told me to check homeless.
“My daughter became my motivation,” added Vasquez, “and I decided right then that I would take the first step toward my goals by completing the summer session.”
By the end of the summer Vasquez’ situation had improved, at least temporarily. He successfully completed all his classes. And he and Miranda moved in with a family member, which made the prospect of continuing classes in the fall much more manageable.
But Vasquez was still in need of childcare while he worked and went to school.
“When I returned to campus in fall 2013 I was still oblivious to the many on-campus resources offered at College of the Canyons,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez was referred to the college’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) office, which provides additional support services to students who demonstrate both academic and financial need. Funded by the State of California, EOPS helps students to continue, and complete, their education at the community college level.
EOPS staff helped Vasquez secure child care for Miranda at the college’s Center for Early Childhood Education (ECE).
As part of his involvement with the EOPS program, Vasquez also completed Counseling 150: Student Success, taught by EOPS director Dr. Pamela Brogdon-Wynne. The course required him to volunteer at least 10 hours with a local non-profit organization.
The college’s Service Learning department helped place Vasquez at the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation (SCVEDC), where he stayed on as a volunteer for several months after the semester ended.
Despite his success in enrolling in school, finding a volunteer position he enjoyed and continuing his educational journey, Vasquez was still having trouble finding steady employment, mostly due to his previous incarceration.
“I kept applying for different jobs and getting the same results,” said Vazquez, who did manage to find temporary and seasonal employment working a combination of jobs, including positions in construction, landscaping and catering.
“Just when I thought things couldn’t get any tougher,” Vasquez said, “Miranda and I once again found ourselves in a tight bind, and were again looking for a place to live.”
Homeless once again, Vasquez took the money he had saved working odd jobs and fixed up his mother’s previously abandoned Dodge Caravan.
“For the next month and half, that van was home,” said Vasquez.
Determined not to let his daughter grow up in such living conditions, Vasquez sent Miranda to stay with relatives and continued to work multiple part-time jobs — as many as seven at a time — while managing a course load of 14 units in the fall.
Things were tough, but Vasquez’ fortunes would soon improve.
After a few weeks living out of the van, Vasquez moved in with a family friend.
All the while Vasquez continued to receive guidance and encouragement from his COC professors.
“Dr. Brogdon-Wynne and Dora Lozano from EOPS, Mike Edwards in the English department and my math instructor, Ruzanna Baytaryan, each had a tremendous impact on my journey,” Vasquez said. “They knew about my situation and gave me lots of advice, and pushed me along the way.”
By November 2013 one of Vasquez’ supervisors at the SCVEDC, Claudia Dunn-Martinez, had started working in the College of the Canyons Chancellor’s Office. Needing to find some additional staff, and remembering Vasquez’ strong work ethic, determination and calm demeanor, she contacted Vasquez to offer him a job.
“I immediately said ‘yes,’ and began working in the Chancellor’s Office as a college assistant later that same month,” Vasquez said.
During the winter 2013 intersession Vasquez enrolled in 6 course units, and followed that up with 13 more in spring 2014, as he continued to inch closer to his goal of obtaining an associate degree in accounting.
This summer, just two years later, Vasquez is a 29-year-old single father, a member of the college’s 2014 graduating class, and a changed man.
He has completed 91 units of course work and now holds an associate degree in accounting, a part-time job in the COC Chancellor’s Office, a secure place he and his daughter can call home, and plans to transfer to California State University, Northridge to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
“When I first stepped onto campus I was a broken man with no sense of direction. A person who had been incarcerated for extended amounts of time, and a single father that wasn’t the best role model for his daughter,” Vasquez said. “People just kept telling me, ‘If you want to change your life the time is now, and education is the way.’
“I’m extremely grateful and very humbled that I’ve been given this second chance at life,” added Vasquez. “I truly believe that College of the Canyons helped make that happen for me, and I thank everyone that helped me along the way for that opportunity.”