BFET provides clear options for students

The Basic Food Employment and Training program provided at Whatcom Community College, takes a versatile approach at helping students access support services and education.

The BFET program provides employment readiness opportunities to Basic Food recipients, who are not participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The Whatcom web page for BFET lists the requirements needed as students who are Washington residents, have a household income below 200 percent of federal poverty level, and enrolled in a least six credits. Potential benefits for students who qualify include Basic Food Assistance and a childcare subsidy through Working Connections Childcare. Students receive additional support on campus with academic advising, connecting to community resources and career planning, possible tuition assistance and other scholarships.

Monique Stefans a BFET Workforce Advisor, said the website description doesn’t expand much on the coaching aspect, or how the funding can impact students.

“What we do is reach out to people who are food insecure, and, or are in situational or generational poverty,” she said. “Somebody in situational poverty has quite a different experience than someone in generational poverty.”

Stefans said situational poverty might be that someone had never been involved in social work or support services in their life, a typical profile might be somebody who has been in domestic violence and flees that relationship, or” go from a typical mainstream life experience, to living in a shelter for battered and abused.”

Stefans said they are trauma informed in their coaching. Stefans explained generational poverty is different, in that someone might not have role models, family, or community support that has navigated college or professionalism.

“You’re probably familiar with the term first generation student,” said Stefans. “There’s also the term first generation professional. So to know how to show up and what to wear for interviews and how to network, a lot of us have the luxury of getting that from our community. But if you’re coming out of generational poverty, its less likely you have access to people that have that information and experience.”

Stefans said they have approximately 200 students a quarter.

“We talk to students and perspective students,” she said. “And talk about what may be the benefit of education training, what support they might need in accessing employment. Part of that is coaching stress management, time management, and financial literacy.” Stefans said the first meeting to assess a students needs can be anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour.

From there the student can begin to explore the programs options. “We have the luxury to make a recommendation of the most effective service to that student,” said Stefans. “That means it might be an earn-as-you-learn or apprenticeship in which case you may be a wage earner as you are being trained in an

BFET provides many options and enrollment time varies. “Our shortest program is one quarter long,” said Stefans. “We have certificate programs that are about a year and degree programs in about two years. But, if someone is working basic math and literacy skills, they might need a year before beginning a two-year program. So the guidelines of time are really dependent on the student.”

Once the student has finished their program, Stefans and her team can begin the next step in pursuing employment.

“We can refer them to various employment agencies, offering the employment support here directly in BFET program,” Stefans said. “And help with resumes and Linkdin profiles.”

Ryan Simonis, a Student Recruiter and ABAWD Navigator, is also on the BFET team.

“My position is fairly new,” said Simonis. “It’s a state-wide position, focused purely on reaching not just food insecure students but more broadly food insecure individuals in our community. Part of my role, I am going into organizations in the community like Work Source and DSHS where people are already accessing benefits.” Simonis said it’s important for BFET to even have a presence there. “Being able to talk to people where they are,” he said. “If they have any questions about accessing education. Being able to be that person who can walk them through what they’re thinking of, what will work, what might not work. The barriers they might be facing approaching education, and how, we as an institution can support them.”

Simonis works in the office with students, specifically with those who are on food benefits.

“There will be a new mandate in the state soon,” he said. “Which they will have a new work requirement and it is my role to walk them through that and get them to places where they can meet those requirements.”

Some students feel shame due to their situation. Whether it be addiction, convictions, or poverty shame. Stefans and her team want students to feel welcome and accepted, no matter their situation.

“So we really take a strength-based approach to that,” said Stefans. “Say, you’ve demonstrated resilience, you’re here and we admire that tenacity so lets build on those strengths and let go of shame.”

The BFET team at Whatcom wants students to know they are eager to help. “If their experiences as a student has them wondering if there is additional support available to them, meeting with people in the BFET office can be a fantastic step to accessing resources,” Stefans said.

“We will often have faculty talk with a student and discover there is housing insecurity or lack of computer and internet access. So if somebody is facing a barrier and it feels like they could use some support, we’re a really great place to check out even if you don’t think you’re eligible for our program, we can probably connect you to a resource that works for you.”

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