Written by Jessica Garcia, CSU STEM VISTA 2016-17 Humboldt State University Klamath Connection
I first met Sarah during our program’s check-in for the school year. She was nervous and
excited to be arriving as a freshmen student, but I saw a small crowd of support behind her, her family. After checking her into the program, giving her the summer immersion itinerary, as well as her Klamath Connection mug and plate (we promote zero-waste on campus), I watched her turn towards her family and give them the biggest smile, an ‘I did it!’ smile. Her mother and father were already getting emotional, and her younger siblings were watching their sister check-in to college with looks of admiration.
Later that day we had major specific open houses, and a welcome social for the incoming Klamath Connection students and their families. It was at the beginning of the welcome social that I interacted more with Sarah and her family. While Sarah was still participating in her open house, her father and younger brothers (I found out they were her family members later) came to the events field where the welcome social was being held. The father was in a panic because they drove all day from Los Angeles to make it to the first day of summer immersion, and they had no time to eat once they got to Humboldt State University. Needless to say, his young sons were starving and starting to get moody, and the dad was on the search for food. I informed him that there was lots of food on the events field for them and they could help themselves to as much as they would like. The relief on his face was apparent, and it was in that moment that I knew I made a friend. For the remainder of the welcome social I was talking and interacting with this family. We found out that both of our families were originally from the same area, we had very similar backgrounds, interests, and likes. Like Sarah, I was also a student of low-income, first generation, and an underrepresented minority. The more I talked and engaged with her and her family, the more I could see them all becoming comfortable about leaving Sarah in a new area to start this next chapter of her life, and the more I could see myself in this student.
At the end of the welcome social, we made the announcement that the remainder of the
night is for the families to be with their students, because that was the last night they would have with them before the families left. It was at that time that Sarah and her family approached me. The dad looked at Sarah, and then at me, and told his daughter “Mija, this is a good lady, she will take care of you and look after you. If you need anything, go find Jessica.” I felt the families trust in me, and knew that I would do anything to help this student. I reassured them that Sarah would be well looked after, and that they could always contact me if they had any questions or concerns.
It’s been 5 months since that night, and I run into Sarah everywhere! She comes to me with any issues and concerns, and I see her at Klamath Connection programming and events that have happened so far. She gets excited every time she seems me and says, “Oh good! I can tell my dad that I saw you today, and he will sleep better for knowing it!”
This is what I think a VISTA should be. It’s about more than student success. It’s about making a community, bringing communities together, and looking out for one another. Social justice needs to start small to effectively grow. I know that I have actively made a difference in Sarah’s life. Her family is not just supported, but encouraged that this change is a good change and is possible! For me, it validates my position here. Because I have faced the struggles that the Klamath Connection students face, it makes me that much more passionate about it, and that much more fired up to make a difference. It’s the interactions with students like Sarah that makes me realize I am making a difference, however small they may be, and that the true mission is about bringing communities together and out of poverty!