Karla Gonzalez knows the value of a good support system. That’s why she gives back to the community through her work at the Extra Mile Student Center, a tutoring center in Grandview.
Her family came from Mexico to the Yakima Valley when she was 4 years old. Her parents told her to keep quiet about her undocumented status while she made her way through school.
She wanted to set a good example for her three younger sisters and pursue an education. But as she got older, her mother fell ill and other responsibilities weighed on her. She began to doubt her ability to graduate.
In college, a teacher involved Gonzalez with AVID, a national nonprofit program that provides academic support to hard-working students in an effort to prepare them for college.
She credited her participation in the program and the AVID teachers who believed in her for helping her graduate. Now it is she who must give back.
“I have (have) a passion for giving back and helping people,” she said. “It’s important, because it offers a better future.”
Gonzalez heard about the Extra Mile Student Center when his younger sisters started attending it. She started as a volunteer in 2014, spending time there when she was not working as a legal assistant. She joined the Extra Mile team full time in 2019.
Her mornings are devoted to office work, such as organizing and paying bills, before students arrive after school. She works as a tutor and helps students navigate the delicate work of college scholarships and finances.
Before the pandemic, the center had about 80 students. This number is closer to 40 to 50 now. With so many students in space, “it’s almost like good chaos,” Gonzalez said.
The center is not just a place where students can get help with their homework. It includes a student-operated snack bar and thrift store. Older students also organize activities for the community, such as paint nights, cooking classes, yoga sessions and language classes, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said she was proud of the hard-working students at the center. She knows what it’s like to encounter obstacles in education and to persevere. Now she helps students do the same.
She recently felt very proud when she and a student walked through a language barrier to fill out pages of scholarship applications, Gonzalez said.
“It was great to see because she didn’t give up. She kept going through these packages, you know she spent so many hours going through every scholarship there,” Gonzalez said.
The student ended up winning four scholarships, she said.
Since Gonzalez obtained her lawful permanent resident status last year, she can now receive federal financial assistance. Gonzalez said she would like to achieve her original goal and go back to school to get a degree in psychology.
“Even though my path was a little circuitous, I still had the opportunity to do it working here at the Extra Mile Student Center,” she said.
Profession: Administrative Assistant at Extra Mile Student Center