Friday, April 10, 2020

Community commitment

City-facilitated grants help students and residents obtain financial aid

December 6, 2010

As a child of a migrant worker family, Carolina Segura spent much of her childhood moving between Texas, Georgia, Michigan and Mexico. Segura, now a zoology freshman, did not have stable middle and high school educations, let alone consistent medical care for her epilepsy.

Segura said she dropped out of high school after repeating ninth and 10th grade too many times.

But failing to get her General Education Development, or GED, and not going to college were not options. Segura jumped at the chance to participate in MSU’s High School Equivalency Program, or HEP, to get her GED and follow her older sisters’ footsteps to MSU.

“I just decided that I really want to go to school because if I had an education, I wouldn’t have so much trouble, financially, living in the state I’m living,” Segura said.

While finishing her first semester at MSU, with hopes of studying abroad next summer, Segura said she receives invaluable help with medical care and winter clothing as a participant of MSU’s College Assistance Migrant Scholars Program, or CAMP, which is designed to assist children of migrant families with medical, financial and other needs.

CAMP and HEP — as well as 13 other area programs and projects — currently are using a share of fiscal year 2010-11’s almost $644,000 allocated funds through East Lansing’s Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, program, East Lansing Community Development Specialist Heather Pope said in an e-mail.

The grant money is used to support services and projects targeted at low- to moderate-income families in East Lansing, she said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development distributes the funds each year to “entitlement communities” such as East Lansing using a formula, that measures various community information including poverty level, housing status and population growth, Pope said.

This type of funding is necessary for the city, City Manager Ted Staton said. East Lansing’s older houses also creates a demand for the CDBG monies and requires many improvements, he said.

“Without that money there would be less of that to do or there would be greater demand on the city’s general fund,” he said.

Funding in action

CAMP, which received $15,600 through CDBG, uses the money to provide winter clothing and medical care to students in the program, CAMP Director Luis Alonzo Garcia said.

The program has received funds since 2004 and is planning to reapply for next year’s money, he said.

“The money is very critical because imagine if some of these students were not getting these services,” Garcia said.

“If they needed clothing or medical needs, it becomes very challenging and more of a financial burden on the student.”

CAMP gives students a support system at MSU, which helps Segura — the first female of her father’s side of her family to go to college — stay focused on schoolwork, she said. College is difficult but will be worth the struggle after graduation, she said.

Without an education, Segura said she likely would end up in Mexico, unemployed and raising a family.

“Every time my mom calls, she says, ‘Thank God you’ve made it this far,’” Segura said.

CAMP will serve about 125 students this year directly with the grant money and maintains about 150 students in the program overall, Garcia said.
Most of the students who access the services are from low-income families, he said.

“(These resources) may not mean much to some people, but to those who (have) the need, it is extremely important,” Garcia said.

Future programs

Programs that qualify for CDBG funding, especially those dealing with the elderly population, are increasingly important, said Sam Tucker, owner of Home Management Company LLC, a possible recipient for CDBG money in fiscal year 2011-12.

The company installs modifications, including ramps and other improvements, to help seniors reside safely in their homes, Tucker said.

Although he is not certain if his company qualifies for the CDBG money, Tucker said programs aimed at baby boomers and older home owners should be considered for funding.

“That population is going to be the majority now, and we want to get ahead of that curve and help people who live in their homes independently and not taxing the facilities that are out there to help take care of them,” Tucker said.

CDBG funding would be “awesome” for the company, he said.

“If we can get some funding from the funds, that would help assist people who come to us and financially can’t afford to have that grab bar installed in their bathroom,” Tucker said. “In reality, by not funding that and not having that grab bar, they’re going to end up slipping and falling and going to the hospital … and that’s going to cost us a lot more money than a simple grab bar installation.”

The grant money given to East Lansing is expected to be allocated similarly for next year, since most applicants previously have received funding, Pope said.

Organizations looking to apply or reapply for the funds for fiscal year 2011-12 must do so by Dec. 17 at 5 p.m, she said.

Gathering resources

Without CDBG money, there would be more demand on the city’s general fund, which allocates half of 1 percent of the yearly budget to its Human Services General Fund Grant, Staton said.

“The other scary thing is that with the federal reduction plan, there is some prospect that programs like CDBG will be cut,” he said.

The city has not received any communication regarding the potential cutting of the grant, Pope said.

The CDBG program has been in place since 1975, she said.

However, if East Lansing stopped receiving CDBG funds, the city would need to find alternative funding opportunities or discontinue funding those programs, Pope said.

“It’s more than likely that given budget challenges, most of the programs that received benefits would no longer receive funds,” she said.

Without the grant money, HEP and CAMP, Segura said she would not be at MSU and a college degree would be out of reach.

It still is hard to believe that she really is in college, she said.

After graduation, Segura said she hopes to work in South Africa with hyenas and jaguars.

“I’ve already seen too much of the U.S.,” she said. “I like it but I want something more out there.”

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