Each year the California Community Colleges recognizes five classified employees for their leadership, commitment and ethics. The 2021 honorees include two dynamic and talented CFT members in the Los Angeles area.
Long Beach Council of Classified Employees, AFT Local 6108
Linda Olmos has worked at Long Beach City College for five years. Olmos moved into the Justice Scholars Program in the college’s Office of Student Equity in 2019.
The Justice Scholars Program is geared for students who are formerly incarcerated or otherwise impacted by the criminal justice system. The program provides “educational, social, and professional tools needed to reduce recidivism and increase persistence” with the goal of supporting students from reentry to graduation or transfer.
The program currently serves 64 students ranging from 18 to 76 years old. “Some of our students are taking non-credit classes, and others are taking 16 units — we do our best to support them throughout their academic journey” Olmos said.
Olmos and her colleagues build trusting relationships with students, especially those with traumatic histories of violence, neglect, and abuse. “We go beyond the educational side of the program.”
Olmos is a member of AFT Local 6108, the Long Beach Council of Classified Employees.
She is a graduate of Chaffey College and went on to earn a bachelor’s in communication at the University of La Verne, and a master’s in student development in higher education at Cal State Long Beach.
Olmos uses her communication skills to co-host a virtual cooking series with her colleagues in the Basic Needs Program to show students how to make meals with the groceries they receive from the school’s Grab-N-Go food pantry.
The cooking show also offers recipes for heritage month celebrations, from Black Heritage in February and Asian Pacific Islander Desi Heritage in May, to Latinx Heritage in September.
“Food and identity go hand in hand,” Olmos said. “I want students to see the beauty of their culture in the food we cook.”
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AFT College Staff Guild-Los Angeles, AFT Local 1521A
Alicen Vera can almost see food insecurity growing on campus at Los Angeles Valley College. Vera is a CalWORKs coordinator at the college, one of nine campuses in the L.A. Community College District.
The number of homeless students on campus is growing and their needs far outstrip Vera’s means. Thirty unsheltered students register with her office and receive ongoing support each semester. The agency also offers hundreds of gift cards, emergency stipends, and a small food pantry.
Vera, however, has kept up the good fight for eight years. She and student workers at the campus foundation Helping Hands Fund have collected food, clothing, and other goods from nonprofits, farmers markets, and the Los Angeles Unified School District to redistribute on campus for needy students.
In the mornings, Vera often picks up fresh produce donated to the program. After it gets dispersed, she collects non-perishable canned goods to store in the food pantry.
“There are agencies out there with food. We need to connect them with the right people, the hungry ones,” she said.
Even a coach may come to the food pantry and pick up a box of fruit for the athletes, she says. “A lot of our athletes are out-of-state students and have very high living expenses.”
Vera began working as a classified employee when she was a CalWORKs student worker. She is a member of Local 1521A, the AFT College Staff Guild-Los Angeles. She was also homeless at the time. The mother of four eventually earned a master’s in early childhood educational psychology at Cal State University Northridge.
Her achievements have inspired many, and she tirelessly encourages both CalWORKs students and staff to continue their educational and career paths.
“I know first-hand how hard it is to be a student and homeless,” she said. “Giving back is the right thing to do.”
— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter