Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cuyamaca College financial aid advisor honored for dedication to foster youth

Pam Fleming with her award
Pam Fleming has devoted her life to helping foster children.

             “After what they’ve been through, it’s amazing to me sometimes that they’re even alive,” said the Cuyamaca College financial aid advisor, who also serves as the Foster Youth Success Initiative liaison and has worked tirelessly with foster youth over the past decade. “They have unlimited potential and if they can get just a little help, they will succeed.”

            Fleming’s dedication was recognized April 4 when the California Community Colleges Student Financial Aid Administrators Association honored her for her work and presented her with its annual Making a Difference Award.

            To those who know her, the selection was a no-brainer.

            “Pam Fleming is truly someone who makes a difference to the students we serve, especially our former foster youth students,” wrote Ray Reyes, director of financial aid and scholarships at Cuyamaca College, in a nomination letter.

            Reyes said Fleming played a vital role in transforming Cuyamaca College’s foster youth program into a wider effort called UP! (Unlimited Potential), a partnership between Financial Aid and offices that serve disadvantaged students, including homeless students and those reared through a guardianship. Reyes continued:

            “Pam cares deeply about UP! students. She meets regularly with them to help them get the services they need for college and for day-to-day living needs. She does a great job in following up with students to find out how they are doing and to see if they need additional assistance. Throughout the year, she’ll have UP! students over at her home with her family for a fun gathering or have them over for lunch or dinner so she can get these students some food.”

            Fleming said she found her calling when she was studying accounting at Cal State Fullerton and landed a part-time job in the financial aid office at the Southern California College of Optometry across the street. She began working in the financial aid office at Cuyamaca College in 1989.

            Her life changed in 2004 when the college hosted a conference for single parents. A speaker from the San Diego County Office of Education’s Foster Youth Services Program was among those invited.
            “She started talking to us about foster youth and their challenges,” Fleming said. “She discussed the plight that a lot of these foster youth go through. We were enlightened. So we decided that as an office we would help them.”

            Cuyamaca College thus became one of the first community colleges in the region with a foster youth program. “We started off not really knowing anything. We were just trying to help,” Fleming said.

            The Cuyamaca College foster youth program served three students in its first year, and all of them graduated. About 100 are in the program now. Sixteen are expected to graduate in June, with most transferring to San Diego State University.

            “Our students are very fortunate to have Pam and she is most deserving of this award,” Reyes said.

            The annual Making a Difference Award was established in 2005 and honors the memory of Maureen Martinez, a former financial aid director at San Bernardino Valley College.