Giovanna Olea/For CU-CitizenAccess.org – Giovanna Olea works for CU-CitizenAccess.org as a community ambassador in a computer lab at Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park. CU-CitizenAccess.org has opened and operated a computer lab within the park for the community since 2011. Olea writes about her experiences here.
Last week was a little busier than usual. The children were really nervous and excited because they were going back to school.
The children did not have so much homework last week. They received a syllabus which explained the expectations and rules of the school or a specific class.
I was surprised that many recent high school graduates came to me to ask me what steps they could take to attend Parkland College. They said that even though some teachers explained what they needed to do, they still found it difficult because they do not really understand what to do. I asked if they ever applied for FAFSA (financial aid) or any other scholarship. They said that when they asked for scholarship information, their counselors gave them “a bunch of papers” but did not really explain the steps needed to apply.
Thanks to the Shadow Wood computer lab, I was able to help these teenagers. I showed them the FAFSA website and asked them to fill out an application while I was there, so I could show them what I did when I filled out mine. I understand their frustration, because I’ve been in their shoes.
I am glad I can help others throughout my experiences. Unfortunately, I lost a school year, because I did not have the money to pay for school. After I graduated from high school, I worked so I could pay for tuition, classes, and books. Thanks to other students, I knew about the federal student aid. They walked me through the application process and actually showed me the steps to take.
I saw myself reflected in the high school students who came to the lab last week, and I do not want them to go through what I did. The application is a long process, but it is worth it.
After we filled out the forms, I told them they had to wait for FAFSA or the school to respond. Jose, one of the teenagers that I helped, visited me at the lab again and showed me an e-mail that he received from FAFSA. Unfortunately he was missing his parents’ signature. I printed him the form he was missing, and he sent it back. Now we are just waiting on the response.
I showed Jose the financial aid office, where he needs to go to verify and accept the scholarship. Jose wants to go into the health industry, but he does not know which one yet. So, I also asked him to make an appointment with his advisor. The advisors help students find the career that best matches their interests.
Jose is still waiting on news about financial aid, but he is learning and getting familiar with the process of going to college.
In 2012, CU-CitizenAccess.org worked with faculty from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science to secure a grant from the state that offers skills training to help participants secure jobs. The money was used to place community ambassadors in public computer labs to offer computer literacy training and workshops to underserved populations from the Urbana Free Library, Salt and Light Food Pantry and Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park as well as a public computer lab in East St. Louis. At the end of the grant, CU-CitizenAccess.org retained Olea to continue her work.