Transforming Lives Nominee Jessica Villarino

Jessica VillarinoOlympia, WA –  Each year, the Washington State Association of College Trustees (ACT) Awards Committee chooses six awardees from a pool of nominations from the state’s community and technical colleges. The awardees receive $500 from ACT and share their stories during the Transforming Lives Awards dinner held during the ACT Winter Conference held on Monday, February 17, 2020 in Olympia, WA. In addition to the awardees, all student nominees are recognized during the ceremony.

Yakima Valley College is pleased to announce the nomination of student Erma ‘Jessica’ Villarino and is proud to recognize her for her outstanding accomplishments and continued success. Villarino is YVC’s first student-nominee to be selected by ACT to receive the Transforming Lives Award.

Erma ‘Jessica’ Villarino was born and raised in Fullerton, CA. Coming from a family of seven, Jessica never spent much time thinking about her future or what her goals might be. “Where I come from is not an area where dreams are talked about, encouraged, or where we think they can come true,” stated Villarino. She dropped out in the 9th grade and began working a series of jobs eventually settling into roles working to manufacture vitamins and gel capsules. After the birth of her daughter, she struggled to make ends meet in California due to the rising cost of living. She moved to San Diego and later Nevada but still struggled. During this time, she also learned that her daughter was intellectually disabled, and that she would need extra care. She realized that she needed to make a change. Eventually, she decided to relocate to the Yakima Valley.

Soon she learned about YVC and enrolled, taking GED courses in early 2018. YVC’s GED program helped rebuild her confidence and gave her a foundation for more. She states, “Taking the GED courses helped me discover I am capable of learning. I became interested in pushing my limits. The teachers were so helpful and supportive they are really what helped me succeed.” After completing her GED she began taking courses in YVC’s Automotive Service Technology program. “I love YVC’s AST program. It is something I have always wanted to do. Everyday I’m excited to wake up and get to come to school and learn,” she continued.

A single mother, Villarino has received support to continue her studies at YVC. She has received support from YVC’s Basic Food Employment and Training (BFE&T) program, which offers educational and workforce training opportunities to students receiving Basic Food Assistance (food stamps). The primary function of the BFE&T program at YVC is to ensure eligible students continue receiving vital services such as Basic Food Assistance and/or Child Care Subsidy while completing a Professional Technical program of study with the goal of future employment. Through this support, and People for People’s Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA) Adult Program she was able to purchase all of her classroom materials including toolbox and tools, a value of $6,000.

Outside the classroom, Villarino has served as Treasurer for the Hotwire Automotive club. She is also excited to compete at the regional and statewide SkillsUSA competitions. SkillsUSA is an applied method of instruction for preparing America’s high performance workers in public career and technical programs. It provides quality educational experiences for students in leadership, teamwork, citizenship and character development. SkillsUSA programs include local, state and national competitions in which students demonstrate occupational and leadership skills. She will compete in the Customer Service category.  In addition, she volunteers weekly at the local Union Gospel Mission.

She plans to graduate in the Spring or Summer of 2020. She hopes to continue to push herself, be a positive role model for her daughter, and help inspire people back home to choose a different path. “This is just the beginning for me. I don’t know what my limits are; I don’t know what I can do,” she concluded. Ultimately, she hopes to work in the automotive, machining or aerospace industry.

All of the nominees’ stories are shared in their own words in the booklets and made available at the Transforming Lives dinner during the ACT conference. The books are shared throughout the year with state and federal legislators and higher education stakeholders to showcase how education helps overcome barriers and change lives. More information: Transforming LIvesAward

To schedule an interview contact: 509.574.6870.

Press Release Contacts:
Jay Frank / 509.574.6870 /
Stefanie Menard / 509.574.4646 /