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News : Education May 1, 2009 - 12:08 AM

Family Economic Security Program at Norwalk Community College

By Norwalk Community College

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Two students in program featured on YouTube

Getting ahead in this recession is difficult, especially for low-income workers with families and no college degree. Norwalk Community College is making the future a little brighter for 20 students who have just been accepted into its new Family Economic Security program. The program will provide a wide range of mentoring and support services to help students earn a college degree and launch a well-paying career.

The Family Economic Security Program (FESP) is designed to help low-income, working students who head households and support children earn an Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree and enter careers that allow them to provide for their families. Participating students will have access to financial, career and academic coaching as well as financial support for unexpected costs such childcare and transportation.

The five-year initiative was launched with support from Norwalk Community College, the NCC Foundation Inc. and The Fairfield County Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls.
The Fairfield County Community Foundation provided $1.25 million for the program ($250,000 a year over five years).

The timing is right for this program, says Kristina Testa-Buzee, Family Economic Security Program director. “Many students, especially single parents, are faced with challenges right now. Getting the support and encouragement to persist at their degree becomes all the more important for their future and that of their families,” she notes. “They might not see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we provide the flashlight for them so they can keep moving forward.”

The 20 students recently participated in an orientation to help them get to know each other and understand the program expectations. They also began meeting one-on-one with a financial and achievement coach to help them identify their personal, academic, financial and career goals.

Two Participants in YouTube Video

Two NCC students who are taking part in the program are featured in a Fairfield County Community Foundation-produced video on YouTube. The nine-minute video follows the daily lives of Tangela Smith, a single mom of a preschooler who hopes to become a guidance counselor, and Janinna Chavez, a mother of three who dreams of becoming a nurse.

Smith works as a secretary at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk. Chavez is a case manager at a mental health clinic. Both women are struggling to earn a college degree while working full-time and providing for a family in affluent Fairfield County. (The link is:

According to the Fairfield County Community Foundation, a single parent with one preschool child needs $58,000 a year just to "get by" in Fairfield County. The Foundation notes that 21,000 households in Fairfield County are headed by women with children under 18.

Looking to the Future
Each year, an additional 20 students will enter the Family Economic Security program, for a total of 100 participants.

NCC received 38 applications for the program. The students selected include 19 women and one man. They range in age from 21 to 46 and have grade point averages ranging from 2.2 to 4.0. The students come from a wide range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. They are enrolled in a variety of programs including accounting, computer systems technology, early childhood education, general studies, nursing, business and culinary arts.

Dr. Pamela Edington, NCC Dean of Academic Affairs, considers the Family Economic Security Program an extraordinary opportunity for the college to collaborate with community partners on issues vital to local families.

“Over a five year period, this program will not only significantly improve the life chances of 100 single-headed families, but also transform the way the college educates and supports individuals who live and work in our community,” she says.

An additional 1,000 students attending Norwalk Community College will benefit from the support of the FESP by receiving similar services, although at a reduced level, including referrals for employment, benefits, academic counseling and assistance. They will also access workshops on achievement, careers, and personal finances.

Founded in 1961, Norwalk Community College is the oldest public two-year college in Connecticut. NCC is the educational center of the community, providing opportunities for intellectual inquiry, open dialogue, multicultural awareness and lifelong learning. The college offers more than 29 Associate Degree programs and 24 certificates. Norwalk Community College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Connecticut Board of Governors for Higher Education. In addition, many individual programs are accredited by national professional associations including the Legal Assistant, Nursing, Respiratory Care and Engineering Technology Curricula.”

The Fairfield County Community Foundation, headquartered in Norwalk, promotes the growth of community and regional philanthropy to improve the quality of life throughout Fairfield County. Individuals, families, corporations and organizations can establish charitable funds and contribute to existing funds. The Foundation also provides philanthropic advisory services, and develops and leads initiatives to tackle critical community issues. It is in compliance with the Council on Foundations’ national standards for community foundations. The Foundation has awarded more than $100 million in grants to nonprofits in Fairfield County and beyond. For more information, visit

For more information, contact Kristina Testa-Buzzee, director of the NCC Family Economic Security Program, at (203) 857-7220 or

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