Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Tracey MacFarland 

It's Never Too Late


Last updated 5/2/2019 at 11:29am

Very often, our lives don’t follow a neat plan or roadmap toward post-high school education and a career. Sometimes we encounter challenges. Sometimes we choose a different path than others have. Sometime we just need time to reflect on our goals and priorities.

The U.S. Financial Crisis of 2007 – 08 not only impacted employees, businesses, and homeowners in Borrego Springs, it also put Nancy Hernandez’ college plans on hold. A 2008 graduate of Borrego Springs High School, Nancy was involved in high school athletics and leadership, was a member of the Miss Borrego Springs court, and was an academically high achieving student.

She was accepted to California State University, San Marcos, and with a couple of scholarships in hand, as well as some savings from her part-time job at the Borrego Springs Resort, she was ready to start her studies in Communications. However, the economy and the Great Recession intervened.

Nancy’s parents were recent home-buyers, and like many others, they found themselves owing more on their house than it was worth. Admirably, Nancy decided to stay at home, work full-time at the Resort, and contribute to the family’s income to help with the bills. Having started at the resort as a part-time housekeeper during high school, she decided to work hard to move her way up there, and to earn more money.

She started as a server in the restaurant, covered shifts at the Resort’s front desk, moved to the new spa as a receptionist, then became a full-time bartender in the restaurant.

In the fall of 2013, while working five days a week as a bartender at the Arches Restaurant at the Borrego Springs Resort, she finally became a college student. She was able to arrange her school schedule around her work schedule, attending College of the Desert two days a week, as she worked five days a week, from 2 p.m. until closing. She always carried at least 12 semester units, and then attended summer school to catch up.

“I met with a counselor at COD, who gave me a worksheet of all the classes I would need to get an A.A. degree in Business,” Nancy said. “Once I started, I knew I couldn’t stop until I finished. I just started crossing those classes off my list. I used that first piece of paper that I got from the counselor for the entire time I was at College of the Desert.”

Nancy’s goal was always to transfer to Cal State University, San Marcos, after obtaining an Associate’s degree in Business. As fate would have it, though, she encountered another roadblock.

“I applied to CSU San Marcos, but unlike my senior year in high school, I wasn’t accepted. I wasn’t a priority student. Although I live in Borrego Springs, which is part of San Marcos’ service area, COD is not. It’s in a different county,” she said. “I had to take four additional classes that would be accepted as transfer classes at CSUSM, so I moved to Escondido to attend Palomar College for a year.”

She finally started on her Bachelor’s degree at CSUSM in the fall of 2017. Nancy Hernandez will graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business/Marketing on May 19, 2019.

When Karina “Monika” Lopez was a high school student at Borrego Springs High School, she became inspired to study nursing. During church youth group meetings at Marion Mellor’s house, she heard stories about Mellor’s experiences as a missionary nurse, doing cross border medicine.

Monika was sold, and became determined to become a Registered Nurse.

Graduating from high school in June 2007, Karina moved to Palm Desert in August of that year to begin classes at College of the Desert.

She attended COD full-time, where she was able to do with help from her family and community scholarships.

“I was so lucky with scholarships,” Monika shared. “I was Miss Borrego, so I had that scholarship. I also received local scholarships from Lions Club, Soroptimists, and Lindberg. My parents helped me, of course, but I didn’t want to just rely on that. The scholarships helped ease the burden of me having to work full-time while going to school.”

Then she found out she was pregnant with her daughter, Naomi.

Naomi was born in January 2008. Naomi’s birth made Monika even more determined to complete her goal of becoming a Registered Nurse. She continued to go to school full-time, and applied for every scholarship she might be qualified for.

She not only had to complete general education courses for an A.A. degree, she had to apply and be accepted to the nursing program at COD.

“It was a lottery system to get into the program. Also at COD at that time, the nursing program was pretty new. There were only 3 prerequisite classes available at a time. If one of the classes filled up, you would have to wait a semester or two until it was available again. Sometimes I would look at my schedule and try not to feel overwhelmed or discouraged. I would just approach it day-by-day.”

Monika was finally able to finish at College of the Desert with an A.A. degree and some of the prerequisites for nursing. She was able to remain in Palm Desert, transferring to the Palm Desert campus of California State University, San Bernardino. Once enrolled there, Monika still had to take transfer classes and, again, wait for some of them to become available.

“You kind of give up your life in the nursing program. Students are expected to attend full-time; everything is scheduled for you. We started out with mostly lecture time, and some clinicals,” she said. “Toward the end, there were fewer lectures and more time spent in clinicals. There were only two people in my class who worked outside of school. The rest of us didn’t work--we just focused on school.”

During her first year at CSUSB, Palm Desert, Monika wanted to quit.

“You just get bombarded with information. I had flash cards all over my house, and I always had a book in my hand. People kept telling me I was doing great in school, but I was ready to give up. What kept me going was my daughter, because I just focused on her. After my first year, I thought ‘OK, I can do this.’ As long as my daughter was happy and healthy, everything would be fine.”

In May 2018, Monika graduated from CSU San Bernardino with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing.

Nancy and Monika credit their families, the community of Borrego Springs, determination, and a strong work ethic with their success. Nancy Hernandez: “When I started, I saw graduation as so far away. I thought ‘I’m never going to get there.’ Now it’s almost here. I always knew I would get to college somehow, I just didn’t know how it would all work out. Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. I was able to explore all aspects of working in a resort. When I got into my business classes, I had a better understanding of what they were talking about.”

Nancy is now guiding her high school cousin, Jennifer, in getting to college.

“Sometimes I think people will do better in college if they learn important work skills first, like be on time, work hard, be responsible, budget and save your money. I think some high school kids need to learn those ‘soft skills’ before going to college.”

Monika said, “I told my daughter when I graduated, ‘We did it!’ My mom was a single mom for the first 5 years of my life. I learned how to be strong from her. I just wanted to make her proud, and to be a good example for my daughter like my mom was for me.”

Monika now works at Eisenhower Hospital in Rancho Mirage, on the neurology floor. She recently bought a home in Palm Desert to secure her and her daughter’s future. “I love the floor I work on at the hospital. Now I want to get my Master’s Degree in Nursing.”

NB: In addition to the high school teachers counseling staff, local community organizations that have supported high school students and continuing students for many years include: ABDNHA, American Legion, BASIC, Borrego Springs Art Guild, Dream Club, Rotary, Soroptimists International of Borrego Springs.

Visit their websites for more information about their programs.

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