By Oscar Halpert Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — Just a few years ago, graduating from college was simply a dream that seemed unreachable to Ana Lilia Garcia.
She barely spoke English after moving to the United States from Mexico with her husband and children several years earlier.
On Tuesday, Garcia was one of nine students who earned certificates in a new two-year Parent Mentor program at Edmonds Community College.
“This is one of my goals,” she said before a ceremony at the college. “I want to continue. This is the beginning for me.”
The program is part of the college’s Family Life Education Department. It’s the outgrowth of a mentoring program called Natural Leaders created by the non-profit Washington Alliance for Better Schools.
Garcia, 35, and her fellow graduates were among the first involved with the Natural Leaders program when it started in 2004. Along the way, she became a U.S. citizen.
People in Natural Leaders work with immigrant families, translating for them and acting as liaisons between public schools and families with limited English skills.
Garcia worked with Latino parents, helping them become more involved with their childrens’ classes.
In 2008, the Alliance’s Barbara Gurley asked Helen Nissani, who chairs EdCC’s Family Life Education Department, if the college would be interested in starting a certificate program to help Natural Leaders further their own careers. The Parent Mentor program was born.
Garcia and other students in the program studied conflict resolution, language interpretation and translation, family support and parental leadership. They brushed up on their English as well.
“It was wonderful, we were pioneers in this,” said Vera Yeremeyeva, 47, a Ukrainian immigrant who has traveled around the state promoting the Natural Leaders program.
Nissani said the Parent Mentor certificate program gives students who otherwise might not be admitted to college an opportunity to advance in a career. Without the Parent Mentor program, she said, many of the students would have been stuck working in menial jobs while volunteering in area public schools.
“This is their first chance to get some support and go to college,” she said.
Garcia said she plans to earn an associate degree next and perhaps become a social worker.
“This is my strength — to study,” she said. “It’s what’s important to me now.”
Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429, firstname.lastname@example.org