Student Parents Don’t Have To Do It All Alone

Juggling the responsibilities of raising a child is already a full-time job, but adding school to the equation doesn’t have to be unfathomable

Low-income student parents have a lot on their plates, and the CalWORKs Parents Program is there to help lessen their load. One distinctive feature of the program is access to Peer Mentors who will help guide and support parenting students.

“CalWORKs peer mentoring is a program designed to help fellow student-parents in every challenging situation by sharing the experiences and knowledge we gained through the years,” said Yelena Margaryan, one of the program’s Peer Mentors, in an interview. “Being a parenting student and experiencing the same obstacles and difficulties peer mentors are meant to be a vivid example of success and encouragement for their peers.” Margaryan explained that peer mentors connect with their mentees weekly for support and motivation, creating an environment built on trust and confidence.

This program helps parents enroll with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services. Involvement grants parents access to free or low-cost childcare and reimbursement for school supplies such as books, laptops, and even enrollment fees. Additionally, they’ll have access to career counseling, and work-study where they can work for GCC remotely, earning income that will not reduce their cash aid, and of course, a peer mentor.

“Being a CalWORKs student has a lot of advantages,” Margaryan shared. “First, CalWORKs Students receive priority registration and twice-yearly grants. They receive guidance with their advanced payments from the Gain program. Besides, CalWORKs organizes different workshops and meetings sharing important information that help students to succeed in college and take steps of transferring to [a] four year institution.”

Universities want student parents to transfer to their schools, according to the Parenting Students page on the GCC website. The website suggests that universities like parent students because these individuals have life experience and knowledge that others don’t.

“My goal when mentoring a parent-student is to empower them,” explained Margaryan, “to make them believe that they are capable of much more than they think and that by applying for a college they already did the most important step, and now they have me and all CalWORKs team by them to help them overcome any difficulties, graduate and be role models for their children.”

Peer mentors can be a beacon of hope for students and help them remain vigilant in their education and career goals. 

“The most recent case that I remember helping a student is when she had family issues and was going through a lot, she decided to drop off college,” shared Margaryan “but after talking and working with her for some time she changed her mind. The other case is when the student was new to campus and CalWORKs as well and shared with me that she couldn’t afford to buy all the required books, so I told her not to worry as all the students receive advance payment for schoolbooks and supplies.” 

GCC offers financial assistance and an array of other resources to make college a place where students can thrive. There is a parents club, financial aid prospects, and access to help with food and housing. It can seem overwhelming at glance, but the CalWORKs Peer Mentors have the knowledge to help direct student parents in the right direction to access resources and help.

“The best thing that I can do is forward them to a specialist that is specialized in a specific field that relates to the question, as well as share my own experience,”Narine Harutyunyan, another CalWORKs Peer Mentor, said. “The last time, a student told me about having difficulties with her assignments sometimes. In this case, the best thing I can do is suggest to her the Learning Center Services we offer at GCC. Students are able to get help even on Weekends.”

Student parents have the gratifying opportunity to pay it forward and become Peer Mentors for the program.

“It’s been almost two months since I started working as a Peer Mentor at GCC CalWORKs Office,” said Harutyunyan. “My interview was scheduled for the day of my birthday, so I got the best present ever to find out that I am hired as a Peer Mentor. For me, as a person who moved to a new country and English is her third language, it was a feeling of fulfillment and joy that filled me for the moment. My husband told me, ‘Could you ever imagine that you’re going to work for an institution like GCC?’ So, being a woman in her late 30s, and someone that had to start all over in a new country with regard to self-realization was a huge step forward for me. Besides, the fact that I will be able to help people that were in a similar situation as I am inspires me the most. It is later that I was able to find out about the environment that I had the luck to find myself in.”

The Peer Mentors are GCC CalWORKs students, so they have a special understanding because of the similar shared experience.

“I think the best thing I can do for the students is to be a chain binding students and the GCC staff together,” Harutyunyan stated. “Furthermore, a Peer Mentor should direct the student to the right person or department. My main goal is to help the best I can and not mislead or harm. Harutyunayn continued, “The fact that I had my own Peer Mentor at some point, makes it obvious that it is on the Peer Mentor to establish that trusted connection between the student and the Peer Mentor.”

For those wishing to enroll in the CalWORKs Parents program, they should email [email protected] with the subject line “New Student” and include a phone number they can be reached at. Someone from the program will call and help guide students through the enrollment process.

“I think the advantages the program offers can provide a clearer vision of the future to those that need that ‘vision’ the most,” said Harutyunyan. “There are parents that had dreams and plans for the future that were interrupted at some point. Now, the CalWORKs program gives that hope and belief in the future back to those who are open to receiving it. Moreover, these are the words of a person who speaks from her own experience.”

Comprehensive information about the CalWORKs Parents Program can be found here:

Brittany Klintworth can be reached at [email protected]