For many students graduating from area high schools, the dream of attending college has been in the forefront of their minds for years. Finding their way around campus, attending that first lecture and meeting new people are welcome challenges for those eager to grow and find success. Students may receive scholarships, federal grants or even financial assistance from family members to support their educational trek. However, many students embark on the journey alone and unaware of the difficulties they will soon face.
Trudy Banner is the Coordinator of Social Services at Amarillo College. She is the campus’ go-to adviser for students in need of assistance. More importantly, AC’s programs have the potential to alleviate the fear associated with attending college on a limited income. “What the university found is that a lot of students don’t finish the programs that they start, and it isn’t always due to finances with tuition and books,” explains Trudy.
Many students attending Amarillo College are on a fixed income, presenting problems for students if financial burdens arise in their personal lives. These incidents are the primary reason assistance programs are so vital to the AC community. “We are finding that there are so many things that people need help with and they don’t know where to go for help. Usually it’s something like paying an electric bill; maybe they lost their job, need help paying rent, transportation issues or even childcare,” Trudy says.
Some of the programs available to students include United Way, 211, Cal Farley’s, Panhandle Community Services, work force solutions, veterans programs for those who qualify, and more recently, the AC Food Pantry. The Food Pantry is an essential asset for students who cannot afford the costs associated with tuition, books, school and food all in the same month. The Pantry is a place for students to come and get groceries free of charge.
“The Food Pantry was founded when faculty noticed that students needed food,” Trudy says. “Some of them may be lacking the money to get by from paycheck to paycheck and they just do not have enough food. A group of people got together and decided we are going to start a food pantry so students are able to come once or twice a month to get groceries.”
This is an excellent resource for those struggling to make ends meet, and all of the food is donated from members of the community and outside resources. The Food Pantry also offers smaller kitchen appliances and hygiene products to students when available.
AC became the first no-excuses college in the area. Trudy says this is important to the vision of the program. “We decided that we have to find a way to keep students from dropping out just because they have to pay a $200 electric bill.” Trudy explains that many of the students’ socioeconomic statuses are at the poverty line or below, and “education is the key so that they can start making more money, but they have to realize there are a lot of barriers that keep them from completing their education.”
In addition to the Food Pantry, AC offers resource services for students who have housing or transportation dilemmas. “A lot of people don’t have cars or they have cars with big repairs. If you don’t have a car, it’s hard to get around, to get to work, to get to school and hard to get to the East Campus,” says Trudy. These services help connect students to gas and bus vouchers. Although Trudy says there are still flaws with students taking night classes because the busing systems only run at certain times.
Housing presents various difficulties as well because students are living on a tight fixed income. “A lot of times students are going to school full time and they may be unable to make a rent payment. We try to connect them to affordable housing or programs that assist them with housing. There are programs that these students are able to qualify for such as HUD housing or Panhandle Community Services,” adds Trudy.
Trudy and the Amarillo College Social Services Department are always looking to take the next step toward bettering the graduation rates of their students. In fact, there is a plan in the works to start a clothing pantry on campus for students who cannot afford new clothes. Like the food pantry, this service would be free to students who need help. “We are trying to see if something can be done to create a clothing pantry here on the main campus. We would have to find people to donate, and right now we would have to figure out how we would handle the clothing,” explains Trudy.
“There are so many different resources and they change all the time,” Trudy concludes. “Don’t be afraid to stop and ask if you need help. If we don’t know the answer, we will connect you to someone that does.”
To learn more about the assistance programs offered at AC, visit its website.
by Ethan Black
Ethan is currently finishing his graduate degree in Sport Management from West Texas A&M University, with an emphasis on Sport Sociology and Marketing. In his spare time, he enjoys playing sports and spending time with family and friends.