From Surviving to Thriving: Dreamers Success Center equips students with skills

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Delta College’s Dreamers Success Center held two virtual events on Aug. 25 and 26, during Mustang Week, to address how undocumented students can get help and find success in their educational and non-educational goals.

Marketing and Outreach Specialist Angelica Flores and Resource Specialist Sergio Lara hosted these events and spoke on how the Dream Center is helping undocumented students, as well as what resources are now available for students to use.

“We now have a number of different programs and services for students to use in the center,” said Lara.

Established in October 2019, the Dream Center is providing more resources in an effort to improve help for undocumented students than what was available when the center first opened. This help ranges from financial aid to discussions with advisors on what help students may need, whether in or out of class.

Emotional Support

The Dream Center seeks to help undocumented students as much as they possibly can, and this includes interaction with students to discuss issues outside of class.

“I think one of the biggest things that any center can do is the relational piece,” said Lara.

Other than just helping out students with their studies, the center encourages building interpersonal relationships to make them feel more comfortable about discussing issues not related to their education.

“We create a sense of family and belonging to students, not only to them but also to their parents, especially when they’re high school seniors or college freshmen. There’s been a number of times where folks come in with their parents. We foster a place of community, which often times isn’t found in a classroom or even on campus.”

The space on campus contains more than internet access and computers for the students to do their homework, it’s designed to make them feel at home.

“They have a lounge area to be able to take breaks, a small food pantry and a lending library,” said Lara.

Mental health is also considered essential by the staff for supporting undocumented students.

“We do like to address the mental health portion, because you can be a student, but if your mental health isn’t addressed, then the student part becomes more difficult,” said Flores.

“When undocumented students apply for any higher education institution, they have to take additional steps and sometimes staff may not know how to direct them. There’s a lot that goes in it, especially if there’s fear involved.”

Undocumented Student Services and Programs

Nearly a year of its establishment, the  Dream Center has added more services and programs to improve support for undocumented students. This includes one-on-one sessions with Lara in which students can get help with financial aid and save money.

“These are 30-minute sessions where students come in and I can help them apply to the California Dream Act so that they can pay in-state tuition rather than pay seven times as much,” said Lara.

The students are also told about available money opportunities for their education.

“We tell them about scholarships and become recommenders for them when they apply, we become mentors and basically a friend to them.” said Lara

Undocumented students can also join I Am/Yo Soy, a club which advocates for them.

“It’s open to anyone, but it’s tailored to specifically help undocumented students, to advocate, to help fundraise for them through events to help create scholarships for them. It’s about 25 students strong and growing.”

Another group that supports the students is Empowering Women, which helps students in the ESL program by hosting workshops on topics such as applying for financial aid to and demonstrating how to use Zoom. This group is led by the students and was formed in an effort to provide resources that Delta College wasn’t providing.

“When students learn language, they have to go straight to taking other general ed classes, but there’s a gap. The students don’t know how to use a word document or different technology and other information that prevents students from thriving,” said Flores.

It’s open to both ESL and undocumented students, and continues to grow.

“They formed it in order to provide support for each other and provide the resources that Delta was lacking. It’s something very powerful because there’s over 30 students in the program and with the support of Dreamers Success Center and ESL, we’ve been able to provide the resources that students need to really thrive,” said Flores.

Adjusting to Covid-19

The Dream Center is facing a few challenges thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Adjustments were made and services have gone remote amid the crisis.

“We’ve been avid about reaching out to our students, whether it’s over the phone or through text. We’ve been working closely with the I Am/Yo Soy club so that we know how they’re doing,” said Lara.

During the pandemic the advisors have stated that students are struggling with their mental health.

“We’ve had at least two mental health sessions where we’ve had a professionally trained therapist come in and do some informational and therapeutic work with our students.”

The center has done everything possible to try and keep students connected and continue offering their support despite the shift away from campus.

“We’re closing a technology gap and are still connecting folks in to make sure they have laptops and internet access,” said Lara.

 “Basically everything we do has gone remotely, whether it’s through Zoom or over the phone.”

While helping undocumented students, the advisors found themselves managing their own mental health.

For Lara, being able to help other students is what keeps him going during the pandemic.

“Just reminding myself of what I do, it gives me the opportunity to look back at my own journey to remember why I’m here for these students, and it’s to see them thrive and succeed,” said Lara.

“It’s the most selfish and selfless thing to do because you help somebody and you feel good about yourself.”