Santa Claus recently visited a few dozen single parent-students and their children at the Chula Vista Southwestern College campus.
Dec. 14 marked the 20th anniversary for Project Santa, created through Extended Opportunity Program and Services, a state-funded special assistance program for students who are socially, economically and academically or language disadvantaged.
Each year, children up to 13 years old are “adopted” by college employees who purchase gifts for them as anonymous sponsors.
The kids indulged in food, presents, crafts and a movie during the three-hour event. They also crafted thank you cards and had their pictures taken with Santa.
The program assists students with counseling, money for books, emergency loans, priority registration, unlimited tutoring and specialized support workshops.
To be eligible for EOPS, students must first qualify for the CARE program, which provides grants and additional services for students who are single parents, have a child 13 years or younger and have an open case number with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Program technician and CARE coordinator Maria Mendoza-Bautista said those who qualify are full-time students, balancing family life with a full school load.
“What CARE really strives to do is provide an additional resource for them as they navigate college,” Mendoza-Bautista said. “Our parents are really going through a lot. They have to fulfill a GPA requirement and meet with counselors three times a semester, on top of raising their children by themselves. They’re some of our most resilient students in that sense.”
Campus community service club ASTRA, which is sponsored by Chula Vista Altrusa International Inc., sponsored 30 children and donated $200 for supplies, food and gifts.
ASTRA, which stands for ability, service, training, responsibility and achievement, works with other local civic and volunteer groups that provide a lasting benefit to the community.
ASTRA president Ana Bahena has been involved with the club for two years and said the club participates in events like Project Santa, cancer walks and volunteers at homeless shelters.
“We love doing events with children,” Bahena said. “Pretty much anything where we can give back, we’re all for it.”
Specifically, Bahena said Project Santa is special because they get to help out students with children.
“It’s important, especially to support our single moms,” she said. “Going to school is difficult in itself so any way we can help them that’s great.”
Martha Silva and her two daughters, Marissa, 21 months, and Alyssa Saldana, 6, were first- time participants.
This semester was Silva’s first back at the college since 2005 after taking time off to attend Pima Medical to work as a medical assistant and begin raising her family.
Silva, 27, is a single mother studying nursing in order to ultimately work in labor and delivery.
She said after graduating from Southwestern College she’s interested in working for Scripps Mercy.
“That’s where I had my daughters and that’s where I was born,” Silva said. Silva learned about the event from a friend.
“The program has helped me financially — relieved some stress at the times most needed,” she said. “I’m very thankful for that.”
EOPS Director Arlie Ricasa, who oversees the program, said it has continued with much support.
“Single parents are really working to better themselves for their children,” Ricasa said. “We want to be able to support (students) during the holiday season. We’re here to support them in their success for their families.”
Human resources clerical assistant Alfredo Farah and his wife have participated in the event since 2008 and appreciate the opportunity to give back.
“We both love the Christmas holiday,” Farah said. “An opportunity to share with others is always welcome.”
Farah said he recalls what it was like to be in their shoes.
“I remember what it was like to be a starving student,” he said. “Students need to be supported in every way. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be able to help.”