CARE program gives helping hand to single-parent students

Chelsea+Lancaster+%28center%29+is+a+student+program+advisor+for+the+state-funded+program+Cooperative+Agencies+Resources+for+Education%2C+run+through+the+Extended+Opportunity+Programs+and+Services+at+City+College%2C+pictured+with+students+Milena+Ramirez+%28left%29+and+Rachel+Regalado%2C+at+EOPS+in+the+Student+Services+Building+on+East+Campus.+%27The+Care+program+provides+necessary+support+for+low+income+single+families+to+achieve+self+sufficiency+through+higher+education%2C%27+says+Lancaster.

Marissa Jimenez

Chelsea Lancaster (center) is a student program advisor for the state-funded program Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education, run through the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services at City College, pictured with students Milena Ramirez (left) and Rachel Regalado, at EOPS in the Student Services Building on East Campus. ‘The Care program provides necessary support for low income single families to achieve self sufficiency through higher education,’ says Lancaster.

SAVANNA MESCH, Features Editor

In order to make it to class on time, Milena Ramirez, 21, has spent three years hopping on the bus from Ventura with her little boy.

“We’d get on the bus at 5:30 in the morning and then get here on time for school and get home at 8. My son kind of grew up on the Vista,” she chuckled.

Ramirez is a peer adviser for the Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education program, born out of the civil rights movement. The program provides childcare, book grants, peer advising, academic counseling and emotional support for single parent students.

The program also provides a Thanksgiving meal for the families, as well as book giveaways at Christmas and a Halloween costume drive for the kids.

Ramirez now has a car but said that the biggest struggle of being a single parent student is finding the time to study.

“Once I go home, I take my backpack out of my car but I’m very lucky if I even open my backpack.”

To put her son to bed, she has to turn off all the lights in her studio apartment and sometimes musters the energy to do her homework, but often wakes up with her books sprawled across her bed. To help her study, she teaches her son things she learned in school.

“Now that he’s four and he talks so much, he can tell me, ‘You’re the best mom ever because you teach me everything.’”

Rachel Regalado, 25, juggles between raising two sons, being a tee-ball team mom and studying clinical nutrition at City College. Her achievements include getting accepted into UC Davis, being nominated for the Student Wellness Center student worker of the year, and watching her son learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels.

“Statistically, my children are much more likely to drop out of high school, all these things, just because I’m a single mom,” she said. “So I do things because I don’t want that to happen but also because I want things for myself.”

Regalado feels like she lives a double life between being a student and a mother, and most of her classmates don’t know that she has kids. She recalls a memory of her son crying one time because he hadn’t seen her for an entire day while she was at school.

“If you ask any mother, they’ll tell you that there’s guilt about anything that they can’t do,” she said.

Chelsea Lancaster, the student program advisor, went through the program herself while attending City College with a seven-year-old daughter.

The pair would do their homework together at the dining table.

“One of the best days of my life was her at my UCSB graduation, screaming at the top of her lungs because we did this together,” Lancaster said.

More than 90 percent of the 250 students in the program are women, and Lancaster has a life-size cut out of Rosie the Riveter in her office. These women have all at some point in their lives felt the stigma of being a single mother, and many of them face challenges like homelessness and domestic violence.

“There’s a lot of shaming involved. You can’t win. If you stay home with your kids and don’t ‘do anything’ then you’re not providing,” Lancaster said. “But if you’re going to school and working, then you’re not taking proper care of your children. It’s kind of a trap. You just have to forge your own path.”

Despite the hardships, resilient single parent students look forward to the future.

“I love pictures and I keep thinking, ‘I’m so excited to graduate to have a picture with my four year old because I have my graduation picture from when he was four months old.’ I’m super excited to put those together,” Ramirez said.

The job requirements to be a full-time parent are no easy feat, but Lancaster commends them for the work that they do.

“Single parents on campus are the hardest working students I know.”