Nancy Stevens, a counselor in Orange Coast College's extended opportunity programs and services office, knows from personal experience the challenges facing her charges.
Seven years ago, Stevens' only means of support while she was a student at OCC was a welfare check to support her and her four children.
Committed to improving her life through education, she graduated from OCC and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in social work from Cal State Long Beach.
Now 42, Stevens recently returned to OCC as a counselor in the extended opportunity office, which provides assistance for low-income students.
"I'm so grateful to be back," the longtime Costa Mesa resident said. "It's my home."
When Stevens and her husband separated in 1987, she had little work experience and few marketable skills.
"I knew my only options were to try and land a low-paying job or return to school for a better life," she said.
Stevens gives much of the credit for her academic success to the extended opportunity program, which she said helped her to achieve her goals despite her financial status.
Now, she said, she is in a position to help others who are in situations similar to hers eight years ago.
"I see myself, and my story, being relived in many of my students," she said. "I know what it's like to do homework at night and have your 3-year-old crawling under your feet."