Community college students act as support guides for peers’ basic needs.

More than 50 students from community colleges in California are currently assisting their peers in accessing stable housing, food, and other basic needs. These students are part of the Student Ambassador Program led by California Community Colleges. The program aims to reduce the stigma surrounding the use of basic needs services by having fellow students share information and resources. They are trained to inform their peers about resources like CalFresh and housing stipends.

Yuriko Curiel, an ambassador program specialist, emphasized the value of having students who understand the needs and dynamics of their campus. They know what works and what doesn’t work in terms of accessing resources.

The need for these services is critical. The Community College League of California and the RP Group conducted a survey revealing that only 32% of the 66,741 student respondents felt secure in meeting all their basic needs. The report found that more than half were concerned about food insecurity, nearly three-fifths experienced housing insecurity, and one-fourth reported being homeless. The statistics highlight the urgency of programs like the Student Ambassador Program.

Adela Gonzales and Xavier Navarro, two former student ambassadors, shared their experiences to demonstrate the impact of the program. Gonzales recounted how she met a student who was contemplating suicide but was able to intervene by providing information about mental health services available on campus. Navarro assisted a fellow student veteran who was homeless, connecting him with resources like housing vouchers and food assistance programs.

Adela Gonzales was a student ambassador for two years at Riverside City College.

Gonzales and Navarro’s experiences demonstrate that many students are unaware of the available resources and how to access them. The Student Ambassador Program plays a crucial role in bridging this information gap. Students like Gonzales and Navarro can guide their peers in the right direction and provide them with the necessary information.

The Student Ambassador Program not only benefits the students utilizing the resources but also the ambassadors themselves. They gain firsthand knowledge and experience in dealing with food and housing insecurity. Many of the ambassadors, including Gonzales and Navarro, have personally relied on programs like CalFresh in the past.

One challenge is that students often don’t realize they may be eligible for programs like CalFresh due to complex eligibility rules. Gonzales emphasized the importance of providing accurate information and guiding students to overcome these barriers.

The Student Ambassador Program was launched in 2016 and has grown over the years. The current group consists of 53 students, but the program has previously had over 100 ambassadors. The number of participants depends on the availability of funding. The Foundation for California Community Colleges, which operates the program, aims to expand the program with the support of philanthropic funders.

While support services may vary across the state’s community colleges, some common resources include CalFresh application assistance, low-cost auto insurance, mental health crisis hotlines, and emergency financial aid grants. These services aim to address the basic needs of students.

Eligible students interested in becoming ambassadors must apply for the program and meet certain requirements like age, enrollment, and availability for training. Staff members managing student organizations often encourage students to join the program, recognizing their potential and dedication to supporting their peers.

The Student Ambassadors use various strategies to reach their peers, such as setting up tables during campus events, creating social media posts, sending mass emails, and giving presentations to classmates during breaks. Their goal is to provide accessible and comprehensive information about available resources to their fellow students.

Yuriko Curiel, a former ambassador and current program specialist, sees the Student Ambassador Program as an investment in the future leaders of the community. The program helps develop skills and knowledge that can lead to career paths in student services, basic needs coordination, or public policy.