A once-homeless single mother who told her children they were camping when they slept in her truck is now a student at Orange Coast College and Pirates’ Cove employee looking to help others facing similar situations.
At her lowest point, Megan Lattimer, a 32-year-old culinary arts and communications major, was a methamphetamine and heroin addict, and decided she needed to improve her well-being for her two children. Lattimer, who became addicted at age 13, is now five years sober.
“I had enough. I hit rock bottom so I went to rehab. I distanced myself from my family and I didn’t want my kids to live that life. I owed it to my kids to change. I fought for them,” Lattimer said.
After deciding to better herself and go to rehab she chose to go to college to open more doors for herself. According to Lattimer, she was tired of working warehouse jobs and wanted to do more with herself and to be able to support her kids. She became an OCC student in 2015 and was able to take advantage of the programs and resources on campus.
“I was an addict and abused as a child. Out of that, I ended up with a record so I chose culinary because it won’t be affected by my record. I also chose culinary because I would cook a lot with my grandma when I was younger. It’s something I love,” Lattimer said.
She became a CalWorks student when she started attending OCC. CalWorks was where she was told about the food pantry, back when it used to be on the fourth floor of Watson Hall. Once aware of the pantry, she became a regular.
When she went to the pantry she would get snacks for her children, hygiene and feminine products, and organic products when they were available. During this time, she was living in her truck, in hotels, or on couches of those who would let her and her children in.
Lattimer was a homeless student for six months then ended up in an apartment that was dependent on whether or not she stayed in school. According to Lattimer, it wasn’t permanent housing but it was her first real home.
“It was rough but I had to try and make it fun for my kids. I would tell them we were camping. I would try to get them excited about the pool the hotel had or tell them we were going to go visit family,” Lattimer said.
Lattimer was asked to speak and tell her story at the grand opening of Pirates’ Cove on January 22. Her boss at the Student Center told her about the job opportunity at the pantry and she jumped on board and didn’t look back.
She also interns at the Long Beach Yacht Club to fulfill a requirement for her culinary studies and because it is an opportunity to work in a kitchen in the industry.
The Captain’s Table Restaurant at OCC was one of the many things Lattimer participated in on campus. She worked with a few students under the mentorship of culinary arts instructor Bill Barber.
“Megan is an outgoing student and she is usually willing to come in before class and help get things started,” Barber said. “She can do anything she puts her mind to because when she focuses in on something she is always successful.”
According to Barber, he admires and supports Lattimer and what she is doing especially since she is raising two children by herself and staying positive during all of it.
Lattimer also pursued culinary in hopes to one day have her own catering business so she can employ single parents that are in the same situation she once found herself in.
She describes OCC as a supportive campus with understanding, helpful teachers. The one person that has been at Lattimer’s side since she started at OCC is someone she called her best friend, Pirates’ Cove’s Student Resource Specialist Allison Cuff. According to Cuff, she is proud of her for using the services that were available to her and for using them as stepping stones to get to where she needed to be.
“I originally met Megan when I worked in the CalWorks office and she was a participant in the program. We had an instant bond,” Cuff said. “We are friends. We are sisters. We call each other soul sisters.”
Lattimer is someone who easily forms bonds with students and someone who is able to make any student who enters the Cove feel extra welcome because she can understand different people in a different way, Cuff said.
Sitting at the front desk and scanning the IDs of those who enter, Lattimer welcomes all the students and remembers many names and faces. She asks how the student is doing and how their kids and family are. She remembers birthdays, workplaces and class schedules.
“Helping students who are going through what I went through really puts things in perspective. I want to be that person for them. I needed a person and I had quite a few here on campus and just to let them know that someone cares is why I do it. I want students to know they are not alone,” Lattimer said.
Lattimer believes she went through what she went through so she could help people because she now has a lot of knowledge about diverse situations. She also said believes that in order to better serve and help people there must be a bond and that is why she learns names and stories.
According to Lattimer, the students who have been using the pantry since the opening are the ones she knows the most about and forms the strongest bonds with.
“Megan is the most reliable person and she is always on top of her game. I have known her since she worked in the student center and she has the best customer service skills because of how outgoing she is,” said 33-year-old construction major Mounir Hachem.
When she first started working at OCC she was part of the Catering department in the Student Center. However, she said she is happy at the Cove where her skills are best utilized.
She went from being a single mom who didn’t know where her next meal was coming from to an OCC student employee who assists students by helping them finding their next meal. Now she lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her two children, 14 and 8, who she tells her past struggles to help prevent them from making the same choices she did, she said.
“Most people just need a chance. I know I did and I had a lot of people take a chance on me. That is why I fight so hard to never let them down,” Lattimer said. “People struggling need to know that it doesn’t have to be your life. You can change and it might be a lot of effort but it’s worth it.”