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Struggling program changes lives Allison K. Sampité | Sat, Aug 25 2012 12:00 PM

Five years ago Debora Servin was a single mother of two struggling to make ends meet. She worked long hours and weekends with low, irregular pay.

With no family nearby and unable to afford childcare, she was forced to bring her children to work every day after school.

As things got worse, she couldn’t afford to properly feed her children and began saving lunch from the office to bring home.

Eventually, she fell behind on rent and was nearly evicted.

Servin, 36, was desperate for change.

“I kept believing and dreaming of a better life for my children,” she said. “I never lost hope that something good was waiting for us.”

And it was.

One day she received a flyer from her daughter’s school on “how to become your own boss.” She called the contact number to apply and waited for a letter of acceptance.

In 2008, Servin began a free Spanish language 14-week course through Southwestern College’s higher education center in National City that would drastically change her life.

“The microenterprise family childcare program is a training program that teaches low income Hispanic residents how to set up their own licensed child care in their home,” program director Cynthia Nagura said.

“I realized that I was not the only one who was in need…” Servin said. “We were all looking for the same opportunity, an opportunity to become self-sufficient and do better for our families.”

The program began in 2005 and until 2011 was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

However, since funding was eliminated for the office of university partnership last year, the program is seeking financial assistance.

Nagura said while she fights for long-term funding to keep the program alive, there are many local business partnerships that have allowed it to continue.

One of those is a group called Friends of the EMFC, created by retired physician and Coronado Soroptimist member Blossom Sanger who began volunteering her time to find funding for the program.

Sanger, 80, said it’s an opportunity to help change the lives of 60 women a year.

“I think this is a great course and could make a huge impact in our society and help them (students) contribute to our society,” she said.

Nagura said the program, which is open all San Diego residents, is highly successful.

“We have a 96 percent retention rate,” she said. “Three hundred and seventy-five students have graduated in seven years, with roughly 30 students in a semester.”

Nagura said the need for childcare businesses is on the rise, specifically in infant/toddler, after hours care.

“What seems to be lacking, however, is quality child care,” she said. “It’s important that programs like this exist so that people become trained.”

The college’s Small Business Development Center is a major partner that provides one-on-one business counseling to students.

“They learn about marketing, finance, record keeping and taxes,” Nagura said. “They are also required to attend a licensing orientation and take pediatric CPR and first aid.”

In addition, as a part of its mentor program, students go on excursions to visit existing childcare businesses throughout the county, some of which are run by alums.

Today Servin provides childcare for six children in National City and said although she had much to juggle, the sacrifice was worth it.

“I was determined not to give up,” she said. “This was my ticket to a better life and it was given to me for free. These children are not just clients to me, they have become very much a part of my family. I’ve shown them professionalism and quality childcare since the first day I met them. And these were all basics I learned in this program.”

San Diego County HUD field office director Frank Riley said the program gives low income women the ability to gain important life skills and self-respect.

“The personal stories tell of their transformation,” Riley said. “Anybody who’s been to these graduations has heard these testimonies of people who never thought they’d have the opportunity to get this education and … have some sort of a future.”

This year, Servin will finish the last two courses to complete her GED and said in the future she plans to buy a house.

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