A STEP in the right direction
Students attending Clackamas Community College with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) benefits can get help meeting their educational goals and paying for school through the SNAP Training & Employment Program (STEP), a state funded assistance program that serves as a model for possible funding on a federal level to help students across the country.
Joan Jagodnik is the STEP grant coordinator and has worked on the STEP team since the program began in 2018.
Brett Sanchez is CCC’s head wrestling coach and recently began working with the STEP team.
The Clackamas Print sat down with Jagodnik and Sanchez to hear about the resources available to students through the STEP program.
The Clackamas Print: What is the STEP program and what is its purpose?
Joan Jagodnik: STEP stands for SNAP Training & Employment Program, which is an acronym within an acronym. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called food stamps.
The program is for Clackamas Community College students who receive SNAP benefits. There are a few caveats: they cannot receive TANF, which is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and they need to be enrolled at Clackamas[CCC] and working on a career goal that is going to lead them to a living wage job. There are a lot of extra expenses that go into school. Besides just the cost of classes, books are super expensive, getting to and from campus, and things like that.
Brett Sanchez: Having the encouragement on the side of it, with the coaching part is just awesome. It is just a great bonus that STEP has this in its program, and I am just grateful to be a part of it.
TCP: What are the benefits of the STEP program?
Sanchez: The benefits part is knowing that you do have that support and encouragement on your side and being able to get through college. We understand that college is a lot for individuals because you are balancing out financials, you are balancing out your academics, you are balancing out trying to maintain a job. So, the benefit is just knowing that you have people here to help you because that’s pretty much life, right? If that is what you’re doing, you’re learning to balance out everything in life. So just having a program like us, being able to help and encourage students and give them tips to get through college as a student can go a long way. Whatever we can help you out with, hopefully you take it to the next level and have a great career.
TCP: Where do you go to access the STEP program and how?
Sanchez: There’s the school website, where you can find information about the STEP program, many of the students that I helped sign up. Some had their academic advisor share some insight about it, some had the disability resource center (DRC) tell them about it, and I believe I even had a student say that the Department of Human Services (DHS) office gave them info about the STEP program. There are people talking about it right now. In fact, I just had my phone buzz a few times because I have student-athletes that I’m helping get enrolled in the program. The word is definitely getting out.
TCP: How and when do you apply?
Sanchez: By going to the website. There is the college expert report survey (an assessment that determines student eligibility for the STEP program) you can fill out and once it’s filled out it goes right into the STEP program’s email. That starts the process, We see the email, reach out to them, thank them for showing interest in the STEP program and set up an appointment to talk to the individual more about the STEP program. once they are eligible to receive SNAP and not TANF, we enroll them into the STEP program. Then they have us all the way until they graduate or their snap indicator goes away.
TCP: How does it help the student body at CCC?
Sanchez: I think it helps students just knowing that there are resources available. If the students are aware that the STEP program is there, it should give them a little more of a stress-free mind, as well as give students confidence and encouragement to succeed.
TCP: Why is it important that more students know about it?
Sanchez: I think if more students know about it, then more of them can take advantage of the program and utilize it. They can help the program grow as it has over the last 4 and a half years. It is kind of a small grant, and I think that if it continues to grow and there are success stories that show it’s working out, it may be able to get noticed on a federal and national level. I’m hoping that it could be something that’s permanent and here for the long haul.
TCP: How has it helped so far and has it changed anything at CCC?
Jagodnik: It has been awesome to watch the students succeed and then watch them go on and graduate. Watching the STEP program take a bit of stress off someone’s shoulders and allow them to focus on school is huge to watch. Also, it has broadened the discussion around student need. Even if the STEP program is not able to help certain students, we can point them toward other resources!
TCP: When you mention other resources, is there anything you can tell me about them regarding the STEP program?
Jagodnik: Really, we just refer back-and-forth, and because of that we are very familiar with the other resources. There is a page that lists a lot of resources that the students don’t always know about. There is the textbook grant, the childcare grant, and community resources available in the benefits navigator. It’s all about having the conversations and having this information centrally located so that the students can easily find it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and space.