From Valley student and mother of four once on CalWORKs, to full-circle award recipient for her relentless work and mentorship with students and fellow staff.
By Annette M. Lesure, Staff Writer
The California Community College’s Board of Governors awarded five recipients across the state for their exemplary work as community college classified employees. One just happened to be Valley’s own Alicen Vera.
Vera’s original duties as CalWORKs Program Coordinator consisted of assisting students in the program until a realization of homelessness among students not qualifying for assistance, motivated her to help with their emergency needs. A handful of co-workers began assisting the mother of four in gathering supplies and resources to help aid students in need of all types of urgent support, from gas money to moving expenses. The Valley College Child Development alumna then launched the Helping Hands Project in 2012, alongside CalWORKs Program Director Ellie Rabani, to provide assistance to all Valley students, regardless of their situation.
“Alicen sees herself as an officer of LAVC and sees that as ‘it’s my job to help a student no matter what,’” said Rabani. “It doesn’t matter what day it is, she’s willing to help students with urgent services from domestic violence, food or shelter. She takes that role in the office also, with a staff of twenty-plus people. She’s always available to them.”
Vera spends her time away from work barbequing and playing board games with her family that she says is her inspiration to be a role model and help others in need. The busy mother whose kids range from ages 13 to 30, explained how her secure household growing up made her sensitive to how underprivileged some kids are.
“Seeing these students being so grateful over receiving a simple breakfast before their first class absolutely fills my heart,” said the award recipient of the young students that have most affected her life throughout her years of work. “It breaks my heart to see them being turned away by their parents as soon as they reach legal age. Giving them hope by connecting them to resources and agencies that are available to them is extremely rewarding.”
Not even a pandemic stopped Vera from fundraising or supporting students in the last 18 months.
“Alicen exemplifies Valley’s dedication to supporting our students,” said Valley College President Barry Gribbons. “She not only leads an incredible team providing great service for our CalWORKs students, she goes above and beyond ensuring that our students are able to continue their higher education plans.”
Maintaining a supportive and family-oriented Monarch environment has been the theme for this hard-working inspiration who attributes her award to all that have helped her.
“I share my award with my co-workers because I really can’t do it alone,” said Vera. “I am so blessed to have wonderful, caring co-workers who are compassionate about helping others. A lot of them know how it feels to be without food, housing and many things we take for granted. [They are] a wonderful village.”
“[In the future] I would love to see a well-funded institutionalized ‘Basic Needs’ program in all community colleges,” said Vera. “If students’ basic needs are met, students will be successful. It’s not a very difficult concept.”