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June/July 2010 – Web Exclusive

When Dreams Meet Opportunity

“I knew [college] would create many new opportunities for me. I had to do something different. I just didn’t know how.”

— Veronica Aguilar-Salazar

Texan Takes Every Chance at a New Life

by Michael Castellon

After the death of her mother in 2002, 14-year-old Veronica Aguilar-Salazar made a pact with her six brothers and sisters.

“We made a solemn vow in honor of my mother,” she says. “We would never fall into wrongdoing, we’ll stay away from drugs and do the best we could for each other. We would work hard and be the best that we could be no matter what.”

Following high school in Snyder, Texas, Veronica started a family.

To provide for her first child, she took on two jobs: one at a local grocery store, and another as an overnight stocker at a big-box retailer. The long hours were difficult, she says, but with the help of her grandmother and government-funded day care, she was able to care for her child and siblings.

Her younger brother Mark, with whom Veronica always shared a close bond, enlisted in the Marines after graduating from high school and quickly found a home in the service of his country.

“I look up to him so much for having completed so much at such a young age,” she says of her brother, who plans to make a lifelong career in the Marines. Despite facing deployment at any time, he remained a confidant and advisor to Veronica.

Everlasting Impact

By the time she had her second child, Veronica felt that she had lost control of her life. Long hours and time away from home had become a major burden.

“I decided the only way I would be able to provide for my children as a single parent was working toward a better career,” she says.

After giving birth to her second child, Veronica was placed in intensive care for eight days. She became inspired while under the care of several nurses.

“At this point in time, everything in my personal life seemed so bent,” she says. “My experience in ICU made me realize that these people valued my purpose and my life. It meant so much for me to get better and get back home to my son. My stay in ICU drove me to believe that I have traits similar to those of the nurses.”

Into the Unknown

Like many people in similar situations, Veronica was afraid of going back to school. She already had two jobs, little money and she carried a lot of responsibility.

“I decided I wanted to be like the nurses that helped my well-being,” she says. “I knew it would create many new opportunities for me. I had to do something different. I just didn’t know how.”

With her brother Mark’s support, she made her choice. Veronica stepped into the Western Texas College’s admission office, and from there her life began to change.

A college counselor urged Veronica to apply for a special program. It was the Every Chance Funds, a program administered by the Comptroller’s office. Veronica applied for and received financial aid under the program, to offset the cost of tuition and fees.

“When I heard of it, I knew this was my opportunity to accomplish my dreams in nursing,” she says. “I had no car, no money, no mom and was a single parent of two children. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to start.”

Within a short time, she was enrolled in the 12-month licensed vocational nurse (LVN) program, with just enough financial support to quit her two jobs so she could focus on her studies.

Giving Every Chance

Texas has a critical need for trained workers. The growth in job openings requiring technical training, certification or associate degrees is outpacing the number of Texans available to fill them, despite the fact that many of these jobs pay above-average salaries.

To meet this challenge, the 2009 Texas Legislature approved a $25 million Jobs and Education for Texans program to help meet the state’s demand for skilled workers. Legislators tapped the Comptroller’s office to run the program, now dubbed the Every Chance Funds.

The program is divided into three parts: the Job Building Fund, which helps finance equipment purchases for new career and technical education programs; the Launchpad Fund, which supports nonprofit organizations that prepare low-income students for careers in high-growth industries; and the Career and Technical Scholarship Fund, which provides financial support to students in training for high-demand careers.

The last of these funds helped Veronica — and more than 2,300 other Texas students as of July 12, 2010. By that date, the program had disbursed about $1.7 million of the $2.5 million available for these scholarships in fiscal 2010. The students, 72 percent of them above traditional college age, received an average of $740 each to help them build new and better lives.

“Education is the Way”

Veronica hasn’t lost her ability for hard work. Without a computer at home, she spends much time at the college’s computer center, writing papers and working on projects while her grandmother or a day-care center watches over her children.

And the outlook for her career is excellent. Her long-term goal is to pick up further training and become a registered nurse (RN).

“I want to let anyone in a similar situation know that there are resources to help you reach your dreams,” Veronica says. “If I can do it, anyone can. Education is definitely the way to better your life.

“My brothers and sisters all look up to me as the oldest,” she says. “I want to be an inspiration to them. I want to be able to help them so that they have it easier than our mom did and easier than I did. ” FN

For more information on the Every Chance Funds, and a list of resources for parents and students, visit Every Chance, Every Texan.

Every Chance Funds

Every Chance Every Texan - Career and Technical Scholarship Fund

Who’s Getting Help?

As of June 21, 2010, Every Chance Fund scholars were 60 percent female and 40 percent male. They ranged in age from 18 to 71, with an average age of 30.

Ages 18-23 made up 28%. Ages 24-29 were 29%. Ages 30-39 were 27%.  Ages 40-49 were 12%, and Over 50 was 4%.

What Are They Studying?

The 2,028 Texans tapped as Every Chance Fund scholars as of July 12, 2010 are pursuing a wide variety of careers, but the health professions are by far the most popular.

Occupational ProgramStudents% of Total
Students
Computer & Information Tech1808%
Construction Trades532%
Engineering Tech24110%
Health Professions1,43762%
Mechanical & Repair Tech25611%
Precision Production1055%
Science Tech382%
Total2,310100%

Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

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