Making the most of a second chance and helping others along the way
Emanuel “Manny” Garcia shed tears when he was honored in January as a Transforming Lives nominee at Big Bend Community College.
He thanked his mother and held his arms open toward the audience. “When you think of transformation….look at what transformation looks like,” he said.
In 2009, Garcia was caught up in drug addition, fighting the anguish of losing his father, and ended up with a four-year prison sentence.
At 30, he took stock of his life, and despite the embarrassment and guilt of his actions, vowed to put an end to his tormenting cycle of substance abuse.
He changed his life through education.
“I worked in prison for 30 cents an hour, eight hours a day, for the sole purpose of investing in my educational future,” he said.
“I was able to save enough money to pay off some debt to the Department of Education, so I could make a smooth transition to college once I was released.”
Since the fall of 2012, Garcia has soaked up the college experience at Big Bend Community College. He was named to the President’s List in recognition of outstanding grades, earned an English writing award, and was selected to be the inspirational student speaker at Star Night in front of scholarship donors. He was picked to sit on the selection committee for officers of the Associated Student Body.
Garcia is a Peer Advocate Coach (PAC) team leader who helps other first-generation students navigate college. One of his roles is to advocate for financial literacy for students, so they can stay out of debt. “The PAC experience empowered me to push beyond what I thought were my limits,” he said.
Garcia leads scholarship workshops for high school students, speaks to GED and English as a Second Language students about the importance of higher education. He also has been invited to speak to groups west of the Cascades.
Writing Lab instructors at BBCC saw a lot of Garcia when he needed help with his papers. Now he is a fixture in the lab tutoring other students.
“The values of BBCC have radically changed and improved the quality of my life,” he said. “The college provided me with tools and resources to make transformation possible.”
Outside college, Garcia stays involved in local youth ministry and is part of the leadership team for Sendero LifeCenter.
“I have been able to witness the miracle of seeing lives transformed by education, including my own,” he said.
Garcia will earn a transfer degree at BBCC this spring. He has been accepted to attend Washington State University Tri-Cities, and plans to major in psychology.
He thanks the mentors and staff in the Student Success Center at BBCC, “who helped me get through the process and transfer to a university.”
Two years ago BBCC staff in the Student Success Center wrote letters of recommendation for scholarships on behalf of Garcia. He has received five scholarships from the BBCC Foundation.
“This year, four students asked me to write letters of recommendation for their scholarship applications,” he said. “I am already giving back.”