Model of student success: EOPS celebrates 50 yearsby Jan Janes on Oct 4, 2019
Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) Director Carina Cisneros opened the facility's doors to a celebration of the program’s decades-long support of student success, inviting prospective students to hear the stories from current and past students.
“Don’t rule yourself out,” said Cisneros. “Apply to the program and let us review how we can help you.” EOPS serves both financially and educationally disadvantaged students with a range of services.
Students, staff and trustees shared the success stories at the EOPS celebration.
(L-r) Jennifer Tomasello, Mari Garcia, Emma Terreforte, Rachel Perez, Joanna
Wallace, Jeanie Wallace, Simone Reyes, and Edgar Hernandez Bedolla.
She introduced guest speaker Rachel Perez, a current Gavilan College Trustee and former director of EOPS. Perez described in detail the daunting numbers she faced as a young, Latina undergraduate in the 1960s, when the program was established.
“I transferred from San Jose City College to San Jose State (SJSU) in 1967,” said Perez, “A lot is a blur now. But I recall that SJSU had 19,000 students, 200 of them Latino, and it wasn’t a level playing field.”
Two state sponsored programs, the Women’s re-entry program and Outward Bound, helped pave the way for EOPS.
“Equality is fairness to everyone,” said Perez. "But you have to have equity first.”
Equity, in her view, takes away all the barriers to higher education, including social and economic barriers. Gavilan College started its EOPS program in 1970, one of the first 49 started in the state. Perez worked in education, first in K-12 and later became EOPS director preceding Cisneros.
“When I was EOPS director, we knew it was really the model,” she said. “We had 90 percent of the students coming through the program successfully complete their studies.”
Challenges students face, then and now, include transportation problems, lack of or unreliable child care, family illness or problems with a child’s behavior.
“Problems don’t last forever,” said Perez. “EOPS gives students a chance to rise above them. We all get help along the way.”
Current and past EOPS students attended the celebration to share how EOPS helped them.
EOPS Counselor Mari Garcia with Joanna Wallace.
I exited high school a bright young woman but found a partner who wasn’t right. I became a substance abuser and used up until age 40. I went from functional, then became dysfunctional, and I lacked the coping strategies to get out of the circumstances. My situation came to the attention of state agencies including Child Protective Services. I lost my four kids, and that was a life changer. When CPS walked my children out the door, something changed and I didn't want to get loaded anymore. I followed the process, embraced the journey and a productive lifestyle was foreign to me. A counselor had faith in me, and I just wanted my kids back. I was told education was a next step, and I had no clue how to start. But the counselor signed me up, right there, for classes the next week, plus CalWORKs, EOPS and CARE. I walked into classes full of doubt, but all the EOPS counselors gave me hope I could accomplish this. I graduated from Gavilan in 2017, and EOPS was my safe haven. I attended three full semesters plus two summers to get the credits to transfer. A journey of acceptance as a 40 year old woman. I did my homework at EOPS every day, and the Cs gradually turned into Bs and then As. I used the math lab a lot, and benefitted from the services and financial support. But the community supported me. Everyone at EOPS listened, helped, and told me I could do it. I learned how to reparent as a clean parent, how to study, manage my time. My dream was to attend SJSU, and I graduated in social work in May 2019. I applied for their master’s program and, out of 625 applicants, I was one of 100 accepted. I showed up, know that I am worthy, and so appreciate Gavilan, because this is where I learned it.
Edgar Hernandez Bedolla with EOPS Counselor Simone Reyes.
EDGAR HERNANDEZ BEDOLLA
I’m a graduate, business administration, from Gavilan and now attend San Francisco State University. But after I graduated from high school I was working at a factory. My dad picked me up after work and told me he was fired from his job. Who was going to pay the rent if my dad can’t work? So I worked at that factory for a year. And I wasn’t a good student in high school, either, I had a 1.9 GPA. A lot of this is cultural, because my parents didn’t have an education and didn’t know what it can do for you. At the factory, coworkers told me: you’re so young, get an education, you achieve so much more. I told my parents I wanted to go back to school. I was always creative, not necessarily good at math or history, but always creative. I wanted to become a fashion designer. My traditional Mexican parents, who only really understood going to work, supported me. We were so poor, and EOPS helped with gas vouchers, book vouchers, grants. But besides that, the people, Jennifer Tomasello, my counselor Simone, who made me feel good, empowered, telling me I was on the right path. As the semester went by my vision became clearer, I graduated and transferred to SJSU. This was pivotal. I discovered how my race, Hispanics, was poor and always working because of racism. I needed to empower myself and my race to equity and equality. The passion you have helps your success as an immigrant. My job in fashion is to change things. The big brands just dump clothing that doesn’t decompose into landfills. I am openly gay and support others in their chosen lifestyle. Spreading love and kindness is my ultimate goal, and I wouldn’t have had that mindset without EOPS. My beginnings, those circumstances don’t determine my future. I discovered, now that I am educated, that I am better than I was ‘supposed’ to be. I can tell my parents that coming to America, leaving everything they knew, was worth it. And, by getting an education, I didn’t let it go to waste.
Emma Terreforte with Counselor Simone Reyes.
I am no different from many people in EOPS, but one thing I am is a product of divorce. My parents divorced when I was five, and my dad passed away when I was 12. Raised by a mother who worked full time providing for her four children, I was unmotivated, distracted by the loss of my father and dropped out of high school. At 23 I met my ex-husband. I lived for him and his children, never thinking of my personal wellbeing. I was fed up with not having my diploma or any job security, so I decided to go back to school. I was driven to get my high school certificate while taking college courses. I received my certificate the last day of the semester and that was the proudest moments of my life. A good friend suggested I apply for services. Sadly I didn’t qualify. Then I came across EOPS, waited patiently, and received the good news that I was accepted. I was so grateful. EOPS has given me textbook vouchers, supply vouchers, gas cards and an amazing counselor named Simone who understands me and my process. I am an overachiever now. I’ve had many accomplishments with the support of EOPS. I’ve gone from a high school dropout to receiving my diploma while taking college classes, a 4.0 student, a graduate of the CNA program with honors, and a licensed CAN/HHA. I made the Dean’s List in fall 2018 and the President’s List in spring 2019. All thanks to the support and motivation I’ve received from my instructors, my peers, the financial and mental support from EOPS. Now I get to apply to the nursing program here at Gavilan. If I’m chosen, another goal has been accomplished. I want a career, retirement and above all to start a family. The struggle is real to see the bigger picture and overcome no matter what obstacle gets in your way.
Bertha Gonzalez with Dr. Kathleen Rose, Gavilan
Life presented lots of challenges. Our family didn’t speak English, my husband got sick, we didn’t have health insurance, and I had a toddler and was pregnant with my second child. Somebody told me, learn English, check out the programs at Gavilan. I learned about EOPS, and that opened the door for everything. It allowed me to enroll, learn English, and to study nutrition. While attending Gavilan, I was a full time student with a flexible schedule. I also had part time work with Catholic Charities and daycare for my children at the Gilroy campus. EOPS helped fund my education so I could get a better job and I can give my family a better life. I remember breast feeding my baby at the same time as I was typing my college essays. I received my AA in nutrition, received certifications from the county and work as a public health nutrition associate in Santa Clara County’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. I am so proud to be a Gavilan alum.