Orange Coast College student Vanessa Vega said baking has always been her therapy — even when she was in a violent relationship and struggling to find a future.
Now at 32, the single working mom says she has found a way to move forward from her unhappy past — with the help of OCC’s CalWORKs program.
She says she was unhappy — filled with stress and pressure and always walking on egg shells.
“I didn’t see hope for the future until I was out of the unhealthy relationship,” she said. “I took the leap of faith and just did it.”
Combining her desire for an education and her love of baking, Vega enrolled at OCC as a culinary arts major — focusing on baking and pastry — when she had the opportunity to make her dream a possibility.
“CalWORKs gave me the opportunity to return to school and realize the power of education. I have been in the program 13 months with my 2-year-old. I’m happy to be going on our own path and doing what is best for us,” she said.
The program assists parents facing hardships both economically and emotionally. It is open to low-income parents, both women and men, with a child under 18, and also some pregnant women.
The County of Orange Welfare Department determines who is eligible and CalWORKs — California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids — teams up with departments at OCC.
Students enrolled in the program have access to child care, personal and academic counseling, financial assistance with textbooks and school supplies, gas vouchers or bus passes, community resources and referrals such as Pirates’ Cove and others.
“CalWORKs acts as an advocate for student parents by breaking down barriers, connecting with other resources, providing many services such as job development and job placement, guiding students to gain a real world job experience,” said Vickie Hay, CalWORKs Coordinator for Student Success and Support Services.
The program serves between 80 to 120 OCC student parents per semester, Hay said.
A recent graduate of CalWORKs and a student resource specialist for Pirates’ Cove, Megan Lattimer said the program helped her move forward.
“I utilized CalWORKs as a hand up, not a hand out. I took every opportunity to better the lives of myself and my children to gain self-sufficiency,” she said.
Lattimer was in CalWORKs for about four years. A single parent with two children, she earned two associate degrees — one in communication studies and one in culinary arts.
She plans to continue with her education and earn a bachelor’s degree while working.
“CalWORKs gave me the boost to attend OCC. It gave me the supplies and assistance I needed to go to school. I also participated in CalWORKs’ work-study to help supplement income and I gained on-the-job experience in my field of study. It also built self-confidence because now I’m gainfully employed in the Pirates’ Cove Food Pantry and Resource Center,” Lattimer said.
Another student resource specialist at the Pirates’ Cove, Rae Davis, enrolled in CalWORKs for about three and a half years and graduated from OCC with an associate degree in health.
She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Vanguard University.
“At 19 years old, with a 1-year-old son and very little family support, obtaining my associate degree in health would have been impossible without the support of the CalWORKs program,” Davis said.
She added that the program helps people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend college.
“Many people don’t believe the CalWORKs program should be in place, but if they took the time to realize how many single parents would not have access to education without it, they may begin to see it differently. I believe in teaching our children through our actions. Without CalWORKs my son would not know the importance of education,” Davis said.
Student parents in CalWORKs can enroll in the program for up to four years. Cash supplements depend on the number of children a student has. A student with one child may receive $577 per month.
For more information about the program students should contact Vickie Hay, the college’s CalWORKs coordinator on the fourth floor of Watson Hall.