DACC Avanza program continues helping low-income students advance

by Mike Cook

Avanza is the Spanish word for “advance,” and that’s what Doña Ana Community College’s Avanza program is all about – helping low-income students move up and move ahead.

Avanza is an integrated services support program that began in southern Doña Ana County to assist current and incoming DACC students realize their educational goals and achieve the quality of life they want for themselves, their families and their community. Unique services also include: mentoring, career exploration and employment readiness; help connecting students to community resources and social service organizations; food pantries in Anthony and Sunland Park; and childcare resources.

“Our goal is to ensure that citizens of Doña Ana County can access and benefit from programs and resources at DACC,” said DACC President Mónica F. Torres, Ph.D. “We do know that in order to do that well, people need to have their basic needs met. The wrap-around services provided by Avanza do exactly that – provide access to resources that allow students to concentrate on their studies.”

“We realized there was a great need for students in our southern county,” said DACC Avanza Program Specialist Alma Olacio. “Many of them are first-generation college students who need extra support and guidance to make their studies successful and help them graduate. Our intent is to assist students overcome barriers they may experience in completing their programs.”

“I want to improve reading, writing, listening and speaking my English in DACC,” said a 36-year-old student participating in DACC’s Avanza program. The female student, who wished not to be identified, has studied English at DACC since 2018. The student has a degree in administration from the Institute Technology of Ciudad Juarez in Juarez, Mexico. The Juarez native, who now lives in Anthony, New Mexico, also has the equivalent of a bachelor of science in business administration from the International Education Research Foundation, Inc. She worked as a teacher for eight years in Juarez.

The student hopes to get a job in education, she said, and will be helped by the Avanza program.

“I like to teach and help children,” she said. “I would like to work in a daycare or school.”

“A major part of Avanza is to build trusting relationships with our students and with our community,” Olacio said. “We are creating a culture of empathy and awareness at DACC by making sure our students are doing well personally, not only academically. We continue adding services to meet our students’ needs at the time. Collaborating with community service providers has played an important role.

“During fall 2020, due to all classes switching to online, a common hardship was access to technology,” Olacio said. “With the assistance of a grant from Union Pacific (Foundation), we purchased 31 iPads for south DACC students and coordinated the distributions following all safety guidelines. Some of the recipients of the iPads shared with us that they had been using their cell phones to complete their assignments prior to receiving an iPad. Others mentioned sharing laptops with their siblings or their children and how difficult it was for them to all attend Zoom meetings and submit assignments on time.

“Currently, we are focusing on two major things: mental health awareness and services for the undocumented/DACA community,” she said. “We hosted an (April) event, Undocu-Student Support, where we had a panel of service providers to include an immigration attorney providing information to students, staff and families. Our goal with these events is to raise awareness to the added barriers our undocumented/DACA students face and to create a community of supporters. We had a total of 84 attendees, which shows the amount of interest in the topic. We also have put together a list of scholarships that are open to DACA and undocumented students.”

DACC held a June 30 virtual event in Spanish titled “Depression How to Prevent and Overcome It,” Olacio said. Rosalva Blanco, a licensed master social worker from La Clinica de Familia, was the guest speaker.

“Avanza cares about the well-being of students,” Olacio said. “Mental health is a fundamental part of our health in general and is directly related to our well-being. We will continue hosting events like these for students.”

Avanza is currently funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, and will continue after the grant period is over.

If you would benefit from Avanza services or if you know a DACC student who would benefit, contact Olacio at aolacio@dacc.nmsu.edu. “Avanza staff is ready to assist any DACC students with the application process to the scholarships,” Olacio said.

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