Hartnell College offers twice-monthly “Pop-Up Pantry” student food distributions. A federal grant will help college students to continue receiving such basic needs as food and housing. (Contributed)

SALINAS VALLEY — A new $990,000 federal grant will help Hartnell College students gain efficient and coordinated access to such basic needs as food, housing and healthcare through centralized hubs on the school’s Main Campus in Salinas and four satellite locations.

The U.S. Department of Education notified Hartnell on Dec. 29 that it will receive the maximum three-year funding allowed in the federal Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students Program, which seeks to strengthen basic needs services for college students and track their impact on student success.

Approximately 85% of Hartnell students are low income, coming from families with limited access to resources and support. Many are working, single parents, student veterans and from the first generation in their families to attend college.

Starting this summer, Hartnell plans to establish a Basic Needs Resource Center with staff to assess students’ needs, guide them toward college-based and community resources and follow through to make sure they receive meaningful assistance.

When the Department of Education announced the grant opportunity in November, it cited “growing evidence that food and housing insecurities compromise the well-being of thousands of undergraduate students across the country.”

A study of more than 33,000 community college students found that one-third were going hungry and just over 50% lacked secure housing, including 14% who were homeless.

Hartnell’s plan will address those needs, while also helping students in need of healthcare, including mental health, as well as transportation, technology, financial aid, childcare, legal support and more.

“Our students are hurting in many ways, and that’s been especially true during the pandemic,” said Hartnell Governing Board President Erica Padilla-Chavez. “These federal funds will significantly strengthen our efforts to connect them with the help we offer and also with vital community-based services.”

Like many other colleges and universities, Hartnell has greatly expanded basic needs services for students in recent years. For example, the Hartnell College Foundation has provided $2.8 million to 450 households, including many students, through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program managed by United Way of Monterey County. 

Preschool classes at Hartnell’s on-campus Child Development Center are free to most families. The college provides free crisis mental health counseling for students, and 200 bags of free food are given out twice-monthly to students and their families. Programs such as the Salinas Valley Promise help pay for students’ textbooks, and the college had provided loaner laptops and mobile wireless hotspots to nearly 1,000 students during the pandemic.

Announcement of the basic needs grant opportunity accelerated Hartnell’s efforts to centralize and coordinate its services and referrals for students. Meeting students’ basic needs was identified as a priority in the Hartnell College Foundation’s President’s Task Force Funding Plan for 2019-24 and included among recommendations from a 2021 Hartnell task force on race and equity.

After learning about the new federal program, the college foundation immediately established a Basic Needs Task Force to strategize its grant request. Members included Hartnell faculty and staff, as well as foundation board members who represent such organizations as the Monterey County Health Department and the Community Foundation for Monterey County.

Hartnell’s proposal calls for the grant’s three annual awards of $330,000 to be spent on hiring a basic needs case manager and counselors to assess students’ most urgent needs, including mental health, as well as stipends for student ambassadors, supplies and staff training. Funds to hire a director to lead the work will be sought from a related program through the state of California.

The goal is to establish the Basic Needs Resource Center on the main Salinas campus and provide regular services at Hartnell’s three education centers — in Castroville, Soledad and King City — and at its Alisal Campus, which is home to most career and technical education programs.

“We intend to create that one-stop-shop experience so students can come in and get help right away, and they don’t have to spend half a day running around to different offices on campus,” said Michele Peregrin, director of grants development and innovation for the Hartnell College Foundation.

Peregrin said she was struck by how responsive the federal initiative is to the student basic needs crisis emerging on many U.S. campuses — and also by how quickly Hartnell received word that its grant had been approved.

“Normally we wouldn’t have heard anything for three months, maybe even six, and we heard in less than 30 days,” Peregrin said.

One student who has benefited from the breadth of Hartnell’s basic needs services is Salinas sophomore Javier Menjivar, who is majoring in economics. He struggled to maintain housing because of a lack of family support. Receiving rental assistance has lifted a tremendous burden, he said.

“I was given a generous amount of money,” Menjivar said Dec. 8 in a speech to Hartnell donors. “I now have secured housing, and I’m able to fully focus on what’s important, which is school.”

Article submitted by Scott Faust, Communications Director for Hartnell College.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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