New Solano Community college program gives students a hand up

Originally published in The Vacaville Reporter on February 23, 2015 By Ann Fogarty.
New Solano Community college program gives students a hand up
Solano Community College student Breanna Rodriguez is, by any standards, a parent’s dream.
Ambitious, disciplined and focused on her future, the attractive 20-year-old exudes a sense of poise and confidence that belies her years. You could easily imagine her to be supported by a loving family that offers all the comfort and stability she needs to realize her substantial dreams.
But you would be wrong.
Rodriguez was born prematurely, addicted to the methamphetamines her mother could not seem to get enough of, even while pregnant. Never knowing who her father was, she endured an unpredictable and dangerous life with her mother and older brother before being completely abandoned at a neighbor’s house when she was just 13.
While her life story could rival the grimmest of Dickens’ novels, the Vacaville resident would rather discuss her healthy grade point average and her hopes of getting her master’s at UC Davis. She plans to become a social worker, helping foster children with the uncertainties that she understands all too well.
“I’m big about not letting what I went through define me as the person I am. I want to help other kids feel the same way,” Rodriguez says.
The Solano Community College (SCC) Educational Foundation has announced a new program to help students like Rodriguez — motivated to succeed but face what may seem like insurmountable obstacles.
“We’re proud that Breanna decided that SCC was the best place to pursue her academic goals,” said Curt Johnston, executive director of the SCC Educational Foundation. “There are so many other local students who need the support Breanna received.”
The Educational Foundation is launching The Solano Promise: A Hand Up for Higher Education. The new program helps students receive a large array of support services and financial assistance to get a college education or certificate in a career technical field of their choice.
For Rodriguez, such support was crucial.
“I know I never would be where I am now without the help of the Foster Youth Success Initiative (FYSI), one of seven bridge programs the Solano Promise supports. They took me through the campus, helped me lay out my plans and kept telling me I could do this.”
FYSI counselor Kamber St. Maria runs the Foster Youth program and says that students in need require much more than tuition and books in order to succeed.
“Some need learning-disability testing, emergency dental work, food and a safe place to sleep,” says St. Maria. “They need transportation, dorms and a warm jacket in the winter. These are not frills. These are things that the other students already have.”
Johnston says that Solano Promise is needed in a county that has its share of hardships. “We have about 55,000 people in Solano County who live in poverty. SCC bridge programs provide remedial education, tutoring, mentoring, counseling and other support services. Together with scholarships and financial assistance from the Educational Foundation, these programs provide a safety net to help those motivated to achieve a college degree. But more importantly, they provide students hope, rooted in the belief that they belong in college and can succeed.”
The beneficiaries of Solano Promise include individual students from low-income households, and the Puente Program, Umoja Program Scholars, MESA for disadvantaged youth in mathematics, engineering and science majors, disabled students, military veterans and emancipated foster youth.
Johnston is hopeful that others will become part of the college’s innovative program. “We are asking the community to get involved in helping us give these students a hand up and not a hand out,” he emphasized. “For example, a donation of $46 covers the cost of one college academic semester unit. That is how easy and inexpensive it can be to make a big difference.”
It has been several years since Rodriguez has seen her mother, although she has been told that the addiction that shattered her family continues. The busy student says she has no time in her life to reflect on what was. There is much more studying ahead, hopes for a settled life with a long-time boyfriend, a chance for a career and life filled with stability — and even a puppy someday.
“Nobody in my family even graduated from high school but, someday, I’ll have my master’s degree. I know my past will never define who I am and it will never touch who I plan to become.”
For more information about Solano Promise, visit