The Single Stop program at Queensborough – which provides students and their families access to benefits through a grant from Single Stop USA – reports a 1,333 percent increase in cash and non-cash benefits over the past three years.
“The remarkable success of the program is a testament both to our students’ determination to succeed academically and to the quality of our proactive, comprehensive support services,” said Antonio Luna, ’08, Project Coordinator for Single Stop USA, a non-profit organization. During the time that Mr. Luna was a student at Queensborough, he worked part-time as a College Assistant in the Office of New Student Enrollment Services. When the Freshman Academies launched in 2009, Mr. Luna served as a Freshman Coordinator and as an academic advisor in the summer of 2011.
He adds “Many of our students are under enormous pressure to hold down a job, care for their families, and do well in school. Our mission is to help them determine their eligibility for such necessities as childcare, Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance and much more.”
One such student is Yecenia Congote, who is majoring in liberal arts and sciences. She lives with her family in Bayside and aspires to become a radiologist – in part because of her aunt, who was a nurse in Colombia. When Yecenia’s not working or studying, she enjoys karaoke and participates in volunteer activities within her community.
The road leading to this point in Yecenia’s life is complex. She first enrolled at Queensborough six years ago but her academic experience was derailed after her father was deported to Colombia. As a result, she became a part-time student so that she could work to help support her mother and younger brother, Bryan.
“At first it was difficult to balance work and school and eventually it became impossible,” she said.
In 2009, Yecenia withdrew from Queensborough and worked full-time for an international real estate company,Multicasa, where she was quickly promoted to assistant manager. Two years later, a record number of illegal immigrants were deported which led to a free fall in the companies’ client base and the office closed.
“When I applied for other real estate jobs I was repeatedly rejected and realized I needed to go back to school and continue my education.”
In 2011, Yecenia returned to Queensborough, the same year that immigration issues forced her mother to leave New York. Yecenia was about to lose her footing again when Tony Luna stepped in to offer assistance through the Single Stop program.
“He hired me as a work study student in the Single Stop office and helped me prepare paperwork for benefits such as food stamps. He even connected us with a lawyer who counseled my mother and made it possible for her to stay in the U.S.
“Tony instilled in me the resolve to never give up,” said Yecenia. “I hope other students learn from my experience because they may also be eligible for these services that can make a big difference in their lives.”
Single Stop Project Coordinator Comes Full Circle
Amawati Gonesh was first introduced to Queensborough as a student atMartin Van Buren High School in Queens Village. There, she participated in Queensborough’s Tech Prep (College Now) program and earned six college credits to jump start the next phase of her academic career.
Upon her graduation from high school, Amawati attended LaGuardia Community College and obtained an Associate degree in Liberal Arts before moving on to Queens College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology.
In 2009, Amawati was hired as a College Assistant in the office of New Student Enrollment Services and then became an adjunct for the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) academy where she assisted incoming STEM students with advisement and registration. Soon thereafter she was encouraged to apply for the full-time position of Project Coordinator at Single Stop where she began working in December of 2011.
“I remember when I first started working at Single Stop how rewarding it was to help students get access to basic services, such as health insurance. I still feel that way each time I can open a door of hope for someone,” said Amawati, whose main responsibility is benefit screening.
She added, “Looking back, I wish I had had professional, free, one-on-one counseling about filing my taxes, managing my budget and other services when I was in college.”