FESP Changes Lives: ‘I was Just Drowning’
Family Economic Security Program (FESP)
Throughout higher education, particularly at community colleges nationwide, the greater challenge is not attracting students to start pursuing their education; it is providing the supports necessary to ensure that they finish college and reach graduation day. A new addition to the Gateway Community College portfolio of support services is the Family Economic Security Program (FESP), a grant-funded program that provides students with wrap around services – a mixture of academic, career, financial and personal support. The goal is to support students every step of the way to certificate and/or degree completion.
FESP features rigorous criteria and significant benefits for student participants. It launched with two dozen students, initial funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation, and support from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the Carolyn Foundation. Wells Fargo became a founding sponsor spurred by two effective advocates: Helene Augustine, the Vice-Chair of the college’s Foundation Board, and Kevin Burke, Chair of Gateway’s Executive Advisory Council. Upon reviewing the program’s superb track-record elsewhere in the state’s community college system, Augustine and Burke immediately understood how much of a difference it could make, and thus how essential it was for Gateway. As leaders with Wells Fargo in the region – Burke is Market Executive for Connecticut and Augustine, a Senior Fiduciary Relationship Specialist – they instantly saw an opportunity for collaboration. The program is a two-way street; a partnership in which, as Augustine describes it, “Students have to commit as much as we do.”
Participating students must have completed at least nine credits and have at least two semesters remaining; have a 2.0 GPA or higher; and be currently employed full or part-time. Benefits include one-on-one coaching (financial, academic and career), cultural enrichment activities, professional development workshops and assistance with networking skills, on-campus family events, and early course registration.
Augustine describes higher education as one of the areas that “touches my heart the most,” particularly equity issues for women and girls. The FESP initiative, she explains, is a “tremendous asset” for students who have the greatest need. “They’re trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, even though so much is stacked against them. FESP can help them achieve a better outcome.” An advantage of the Wells Fargo decision-making process is that, although requests for program grants are filed nationally, decisions on funding allocation are made locally – ensuring that Wells Fargo’s local leaders, such as Burke and Augustine, can provide the human connection to the company’s commitment to community.
FESP addresses two of Wells Fargo’s five areas of community commitments: education and the achievement gap, and workforce development. “It is a program that achieves results,” Burke explains, because it provides students with “a full suite of wrap around services that gives them a better shot at reaching graduation.” He notes the precarious nature of balancing family and career responsibilities along with school attendance, which so many Gateway students must do.
Tiairra Slade, a single parent of two boys, ages 6 and 11, always dreamed of becoming a nurse, but a series of setbacks threatened to derail her education – and her future. “My landlord sold my house and told me, at the last minute, that I had to move. Then, my car was hit and totaled. I was just drowning,” she recalls. “I was doing the best I could, but just wanted to give up. I felt like I had no one."
Tiairra credits Gateway’s Family Economic Security Program (FESP), with getting her on track. “The FESP staff are my angels,” she says. “It’s not just a program; we’re a family.” She received Helping Hands financial grants for the three semesters she has participated in FESP. Additionally, she says the program’s coaching and budgeting services are helping her to financially weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Tiairra wants to “pay it forward” to her community. Her younger son’s great-grandmother, a New Haven church pastor, wants to open a homeless shelter, and Tiairra is researching locations and kitchen requirements. This straight “A” student, a certified nursing assistant who works part-time at Yale New Haven Hospital as a unit associate secretary, also stays in contact with several former cancer patients she met years ago.
Tiairra also proudly shared some wonderful news: She has been accepted into Gateway’s Nursing program! You can help promising students like Tiairra by donating to the GCC Foundation via the above “Donate Now” icon.
“I have seen first-hand how life-changing this program has been. It has helped students stay in their homes, stay on track for graduation, and strengthen their academic skills and has helped them identify their career paths. I am passionate about this program and will continue to work diligently to ensure the success of our amazing GCC students, who are so deserving of the opportunities FESP has provided them.”
-FESP Director Licella Arboleda, MS, LPC, NCC
We thank the following funders for their support of FESP
The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
Gateway Community College
Gateway Community College Foundation, Inc.
Mimi M. Lines
Wells Fargo Foundation