Born in the U.S. to Dominican parents, Danelice Espinosa has never been far removed from immigrant populations who struggle through processes related to U.S. citizenship, visas, petitions, and possible deportation.
Such issues hit even closer to home when she married her husband, a Mexican citizen.
“So, I know the situation many of them go through, and it’s gratifying helping people in that area … or any area,” Danelice said.
The opportunity to help people with issues related to immigration was unexpectedly offered to Danelice just a few months ago after she applied to the Federal Work-Study program through Florida Career College’s (FCC’s) Pembroke Pines campus.
An FCC Medical Assistant Program (MAT) student at the time, Danelice said she expected to earn money through the Work-Study program by performing jobs and necessary tasks on campus. Instead, she was offered the chance to work off-campus for a local nonprofit organization that provides process, documentation, and translation services for immigrants.
This opportunity came about thanks to an effort by Gregory Falcon, Executive Director of FCC’s Pembroke Pine campus, and Elizabeth Cuetara, the campus’s Director of Student Finance.
Upon recognizing many FCC campuses were not making use of all their available Work Study hours – COVID had limited some on-campus work opportunities – Mr. Falcon said he saw an opportunity to redirect the funds in a way that supported and emphasized community service.
“I think each campus needs to recognize they have a responsibility to make Florida Career College not just the name of a college, but a place that really supports the communities we’re in,” Mr. Falcon said. “So in that spirit, we said hey, let’s use these Work Study hours to do more work out in the community.”
How Does the Federal Work Study Program Work?
The Federal Work-Study program is a federally-funded program of the U.S. Department of Education that provides employment opportunities to students who apply for financial aid and who are eligible for the program through their schools.
In addition to establishing income, students in the program also earn work experience, often through on-campus employment at participating institutions like FCC.
However, the program allows participating schools to use Federal Work Study funding to pay students who work off-campus, as well – students who, say, are working to support the missions of local nonprofit organizations.
This, Elizabeth said, is where the FCC Pembroke Pines campus has opted to focus more of its funds, along with allocated funds unused by other FCC campuses.
“We hire some students to work on campus, but we put an emphasis on using what remains of the money to support students who work at local nonprofit organizations,” Elizabeth said. “They go to the organization and do work for them, and we pay the students. As far as the nonprofits are concerned, the students are working for free.”
The Federal Work Study Program actually encourages this use of its funds. The U.S. Department of Education mandates that at least 7% of the program dollars received by a school is used to support students working in community service jobs.
In Pembroke Pines, Gregory does this by establishing partnerships with local nonprofits interested in providing work for FCC students. Work-Study students are then matched up with these organizations based on preference, availability, location, and so on.
Organizational partners have included churches and ministries, youth centers, mentorship programs, resource centers, immigration service organizations, and foundations. At these nonprofits, Work-Study students have been asked to do a wide scope of work, from service and clerical work to maintenance tasks.
“These not-for-profits are doing meaningful work to help the community, and students can actually become a part of this work,” Mr. Falcon said. “At FCC, we can do as much as we can in career services, but in life services, this is a wonderful opportunity to gain new experiences.”
Gaining Valuable Experience While Giving Back
When Danelice began the Work-Study program, she was asked if she’d like to spend her hours volunteering for United Community Service, a nonprofit organization just north of Miami that “provides real solutions to the needs of immigrants, helping them with their immigration processes and tax procedures at low costs.”
Danelice accepted. And because she is bilingual, she earned additional income over the next few months translating documents, filling out important forms, answering phones … pretty much anything United Community Service needed from her, at no cost to the organization.
Such experience, according to Mr. Falcon, only serves to enhance the value of a student’s education while contributing to her or his growth as a professional in the workforce.
“Students can add this to their resumes, they can get a reference from that not-for-profit … they can even get a reference from the college based on how they performed,” he said. “It kind of magnifies the point of when you come to Florida Career College, these are all the opportunities you have.”
For Danelice, that meant becoming more efficient using computers and translating important and meaningful documentation, skills she feels will better prepare her for a career as a Medical Assistant Technician in southern Florida.
It also meant gaining confidence in herself.
“I was shy, and I started [my education] later in life,” she said. “I dedicated my life to being a mom and grandma. Now that I’m in school and doing this job, everything’s different – computers, confidence … everything.”
Plus, Danelice earned the satisfaction of helping her community through the work she did within the organization.
“Whatever I do, I do it with love,” she said. “Everything to me us important. But this job … it just feels good to help people.”
A person with a long and personal commitment to volunteerism, Mr. Falcon certainly relates to this feeling of satisfaction – a feeling he hopes to help more students experience through FCC’s Work-Study program.
“When you think back to all the things we could do to better our community, helping a not-for-profit fulfill their mission … well, that’s one of the greatest things you can do,” he said.