Californians for All: A Pathway to College

Vanguard University is entering its second year as an Orange County College Corps Consortium member, and its impact has already been exponential for students and the Orange County community. In 2021, the university partnered with Concordia University Irvine and Irvine Valley College to mobilize 200 students to serve in the local neighborhoods. In return, these students receive up to $10,000 to help cover the cost of living and educational expenses, as well as professional development that they can put on their résumé upon graduation.

The goal of this state-funded program is to create debt-free pathways to college while engaging students in their local community. By serving in areas that address K-12 education, food insecurity, and climate action; the students are simultaneously exposed to opportunities that help them grow professionally and expand their horizons.

For Keila Gonzalez Reyes ’23, the College Corps grant allowed her to complete her practicum for her Early Childhood Education program while benefiting from real-world experience that she was deprived of during her early college career. “During the pandemic, I didn’t really have any opportunities to gain experience,” she explained. “I was almost a senior [when I applied to College Corps]—I had no experience and no internships yet.”

But her acceptance as a College Corps fellow was more than a means to reach graduation. It was also a way to serve in community programs that had supported her family throughout her life. “I was excited to start being a part of the community and gaining experience for my own growth, but also to be able to make an impact on others, because I received so much help from my community members,” Gonzalez Reyes expressed. “Now it’s my turn to give back.”

Gonzalez Reyes is just one of many students who is actively serving in areas that have been a personal resource. Shelley Youd, Director of College Corps at Vanguard University, has been witness to numerous students who are giving back to the very programs that have supported them and their families. Second Harvest, for example, is an Orange County College Corps partner and an organization that gathers food from local farms and redistributes it to food pantries in the area. “Our students hereare some of the recipients [of that food], so when we talk to students who are surviving off of and getting additional nourishment for their family through Living Well on our campus, they’re getting that because our students at Second Harvest are doing that work,” Youd said.

As of March 2023, Vanguard fellows had clocked roughly 17,000 hours of volunteer work in the community, making a difference in the lives of their neighbors and being the hands and feet of Jesus. With service at the core of Vanguard’s mission, the university’s involvement in College Corps has come to be a reflection of its heartbeat for the community. In fact, Youd shared that there have been many students who continue to serve in some capacity after they have completed their required hours for the program.

“I had one student ask me if, when she’s done with her hours, does she have to stop [serving]?” Youd said. This student had been serving at Meals on Wheels five days a week and was coming up on her second year as a College Corps Fellow. She shared with Youd the joy of bringing fellowship to people who so desperately needed connection and the value she received in return by learning from an older generation. “She’s bringing them dignity, and then she’s receiving a relationship that she appreciates enough that she wants to go back and work there three days a week when she doesn’t have to,” Youd said.

The Orange County College Corps Consortium is a two-year program and will be up for renewal in 2024. Having witnessed the tangible impact that it has had on the community both on and off campus, Youd hopes that the grant will be renewed as a continual opportunity to make a lasting impact in Orange County.