Angellee Soriano swears by the California Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWorks) program.

She’d know better than most, having utilized the program’s services while at Merced College. Soriano then doubled down on her beliefs, returning as a CalWORKs Student Services Assistant in an effort to pay her successes forward.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say that CalWORKS was life changing,” Soriano said. “I’d never even considered college. It just isn’t something that was on my radar. I was set to go into the welfare-to-work program when my mom told me I could go to school and try and get out of my situation instead.

“I didn’t have the support elsewhere. The government is what helped me get through life with me and my kid, but being on government assistance, you’re just barely getting by. There’s not a lot of opportunity to get out from under it or better your situation. Coming here, I received support that I never thought was possible. It made me believe I could achieve many goals and set goals for my daughter.”

Soriano’s story isn’t an uncommon one on the Merced College campus with 23 former CalWORKs students now full-time employees. It’s a testament to the effectiveness of the program and the caliber of the people that run it, that so many have wanted to come back and help out the next generation coming through.

CalWORKs is for parents that are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) from the government and have a child at home under the age of 18.  

“It applies to students that are enrolled in school and receiving cash aid for themselves and children through Merced County, Stanislaus County or Madera County,” Student Support Coordinator LaDenta Smith said. “The County provides them with books, pays mileage for travel to school, parking permits and childcare help.

“We provide them with supplies, counseling, mental support and any other support they might need to be successful. There’s also some work-study opportunities.”

The other thing the CalWORKs program requires is approval from the student’s welfare-to-work counselor. Smith acknowledged this occasionally calls for a little persistence from the student, but that such an effort pays big dividends.  

“The best part for me is when the light bulbs go off and they get excited and realize they can be successful,” Smith said. “You watch them go from being scared and shy to this flower. Then we get to see them graduate and know they’re going to have a better life for themselves.”

For more information on the program visit www.mccd.edu/resources/calworks or call (209) 381-6515 for the Merced campus or (209) 381-6428 on the Los Banos campus.