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Student Success Stories


Tanyaluck Chotshirapan

Tanyaluck Chotshirapan is a generous woman who is extremely caring. She aspires to become a physical therapy assistant in the near future. In 1999, she came to the United States from Thailand at the urging of her siblings to embark on her own personal quest for independence. Despite loving her parents dearly, she was treated like a weak woman because she was sickly as a child. She realized that if she were to ever be free to make her own decisions, she would have to leave home.
In America, Tanya wed, had a daughter and suffered for a time in an abusive marriage. Somehow, she defied traditional beliefs, which according to Tanya, would have been to stay in a bad relationship, no matter what. Fortunately, after a two month stay in a domestic violence shelter she found the courage to leave without turning back. From her own parents loving and equitable union, which wasn't the norm in her homeland, she knew violence and love didn't equate.Photo of Tanyaluck Chotshirapan
After fleeing her situation, Tanya found the CalWORKs program. Even though she had a business degree from her country, she had to start all over at 40-something, which would have been unheard of in Thailand. Tanya explained that "I would be considered too old to go back to school." Now she believes that in America, she is free to choose her path and have her own opinions. Since coming to ARC, she has worked on campus, helped other students and still continues to gain skills to be prepared for the workforce, which she really wants to be a part of so that she can support her daughter's dream of attending Stanford University one day. Once Tanya secures a full-time job, which she is in a rush to do, she will take a few classes at a time in the physical therapy assistant program to feed her nurturing spirit.
Tanya is far from the weak woman her parents once perceived her to be. Seeing her today, they know that she is a great mother who raises her daughter alone, as well as a hard worker and a good student. All- in-all, she is a successful warrior who believes that equality should be extended to women who she urges to get out of miserable, abusive situations because they can survive and be happy. Tanya knows first-hand. She is absolutely masterful at creating her own happiness. Today, she states without hesitation, "I am a strong, tough woman and will make it!" She also proclaims with a gigantic smile, "I believe in myself!" an adopted philosophy and affirmation that she has learned from her daughter who tells her the same thing all the time.




Yahaira Martinez

A child's influence cannot be underestimated. Sometimes there's the assumption that parents or elders are the only ones who teach, inspire and provide profound life lessons, but a child can do the same by transforming an adult with their simple innocence. The trust a child places in those who are charged with providing unconditional love and guidance is most often unwavering. Thus the term, a "childlike-faith" is applicable to one of CalWORKs brightest students.
When Yahaira Martinez was engaged in self-destructive behaviors, it was her young sons, or as she describes it, "My little heroes that inspired me and saved my life." If they weren't a part of her world and in constant need of her care, she might still be "in trouble." However, when asked if she is fine now, she confidently quipped, "I am beyond fine!" And she is more than fine when considering the progress she has made toward a dream she has harbored since she was eighteen.
As a ninth grader, Yahaira grew bored and restless and dropped out of school. Her home life was also tumultuous. "I felt like I was raising myself." Photo of Yahaira MartinezTraditional roles for the women in Yahaira's family were inflexible and not at all awe inspiring, consisting of "Taking care of the household, your man and cooking and cleaning," which translates to forgetting your dreams. To escape her oppressive circumstances, Yahaira ran away for weeks at a time. However, little- by-little she began to experience a miraculous transformation. It started when she began reading psychology books that were so deeply engrossing that she wanted to learn more and become more. A job, independence, and resistance from those who didn't want her to grow, followed. Though tentative at first, Yahaira attained her GED in six months. Thereafter, she considered college as a way out of nowhere, so she chose to attend ARC which seemed like a world away from South Sacramento where she grew up.
Uncertain of her ability to handle the college experience, Yahaira thought she would try for a certificate in the closet program to Psychology that she could think of: Chemical Dependency. In her first semester she achieved a 3.75 grade point average and a new found confidence in being a student was born. By her second semester she fell in love with school and became fascinated with the subject matter and the lectures. Most recently after attending a UC Davis Mentorship program that was co-sponsored by the American River College Pre-Med club, (*AMSA/ ARC) she knew that being a doctor was what she wanted, but she refused to reveal her desires to anyone except one friend who she knew believed in her and wouldn't make fun of her lofty ambitions.
Spurred by the trials her own family continues to face in trying and not being able to attain regular health care due to high costs, Yahaira forges on in her quest to become Dr. Martinez, in the not too distant future. In a step toward that goal, she was recently granted an interview for a highly selective and prestigious medical internship. With Yahaira's steadfast determination and passion, more opportunities will surely come her way because she sees the bigger picture and wants to be a force not only in her community, but globally, where she will strive to help those who can't afford better health care options.
Although negative influences might have once been a catalyst for Yahaira seeking a different script for her life, the real credit to her empowerment goes to Yahaira herself and her "little heroes." Now with the right prescription for success, Yahaira hopes to show both generations of her family that they can assume new progressive roles and accomplish whatever they set their minds to without limitations.
*American Medical Student Association - American River College





Tyrna's Story

Tyrna Brown has gone exceptionally far in a short amount of time. She acknowledges; however, that the preceding decade went by with few accomplishments which made her determined not to allow another 10 years pass without doing something that would change her fate. Despite the five scant years it has taken Tyrna to find a path that promises a more fortuitous future, there was a long period of stagnation which included death, near death, abuse, homelessness, despair and reinvention. What once seemed improbable has been realized because Tyrna was willing to take a few significant steps that would improve her life. Photo of Tyrna BrownToday she is a proud member of Phi Beta Kappa at American River College, (a club for students with GPAs of 3.5 or higher) and was beaming with pride because her mother, son and husband were there to cheer her on at the induction ceremony. In the spring of 2012, Tyrna will be graduating from American River College after dropping out of high school at sixteen; and in the fall she will be at Sacramento State pursing a degree in Counseling. Another dream came true when Tyrna recently married after failed and abusive relationships. Yet her greatest achievement, besides raising her beloved son as a single mother, has been her ability to learn to love herself enough to develop a strong sense of self and proudly proclaim without any excuses or apologies, "I am who I am!"
From birth, Tyrna, who is in her thirties, has had to find a place of belonging. When her parents split up, she had to cope in a world of dysfunction, depression and despair, not unlike many other individuals. Although in her case, there were additional issues that she would have to confront that impacted her esteem. By being biracial, half black and half white, she often felt left out with no one knowing who or what she was. So she went out of her way to try to fit in with both sides of her racial identity. She discovered that she didn't want to be put in a box but with no definition of self or what she stood for, believed in, or hoped to become, Tyrna struggled with feelings of worthlessness and drifted between parents. At one point she ended up homeless. There were also other difficult times when she and her mother weren't getting along. In regard to her father, she had no real bond with him, which she had desperately longed for. So she took care of herself and her younger siblings as best she could, even though she was merely a child herself. By sixteen she dropped out of school and sought security in men that she had hoped could fulfill the role of a father figure.
While attending a Department of Human Assistance Job Club session, Tyrna heard a representative from ARC give a presentation about college that ignited her hopes because she had tired of dead-end jobs and yearned for opportunities that would provide economic stability and personal growth. Inspired, she knew that college might be the avenue to success that she had never known. The very day of the presentation, Tyrna contacted the college representative and enrolled at ARC and hasn't looked back! When she found out that she was eligible for CalWORKs, she was so grateful because according to Tyrna, "It saved my life. Without the support CalWORKs provided, I could have stayed in an abusive relationship and I would still be in a dysfunctional relationship with my mom. It gave me a chance to gain independence and take care of my son. It allowed me to put myself back together."
There were other experiences and individuals that were influential to Tyrna, who wanted to teach physical education to high school students, but discovered that she needed to focus on an additional subject to teach. After working with Mike Sachau, ARC's athletic counselor, she decided to pursue a degree in counseling because she loved interacting with, and helping people. Thus, the stage was set for Tyrna to finally take her place, but despite making so much progress, there were still some setbacks that she encountered that could have resulted in a negative outcome.
A few years ago, Tyrna nearly drowned on an outing with her young son. The flutter kick she learned in an ARC swim class was not enough to keep her afloat in a raging river with unpredictable currents. Gasping for life, she began to slip beneath the cold choppy waters, and in an instant she saw her son's life flash before her and screamed out in desperation to anyone who could hear, "I'm drowning!" Miraculously, someone pulled her from the current just before she was swept away and laid her on the shore to rest. When she woke up, her rescuers were gone. Most recently, Tyrna cheated death a second time when she was in a car accident that caused back and neck injuries, but she is happy to be alive.
Tyrna continues to mourn the untimely death of her brother, Chris, who was killed at the age of 24 in 2005, and the loss of a relationship with her father, who died before they could truly connect. At his funeral in Detroit, Michigan she hugged and kissed brothers and sisters that she had never met from her father's side of the family. These newly formed bonds have given Tyrna a chance to learn about the father she was desperate to know through their stories and remembrances. Despite it all, Tyrna is rising through her pain and making a different life for her son and new husband. She has a better relationship with her mother, and has forgiven her father.
Tyrna Brown has packed more accomplishments into a half of a decade than most. She is committed to her vow of not letting another 10 years go by without being actively engaged. When reminded of all that she has been through, Tyrna giggles and sighs in shy amazement, "I wanted love for myself and my son. God helped me get through it all. Clouds disappeared and a bunch a light got on me. Now I am about to graduate! I've never graduated from anything, not even high school, and here I am. I can't believe it!" 




Georges' Story

Many monumental happenings occurred in 1969. A man landed on the moon and a quiet farm in a meadow in Woodstock, New York was transformed to a who's who of musical icons of the day that attracted youthful followers for a weekend of peace and love. Richard Nixon was the president of the United States in 1969 which was also the last year of a decade that saw the emergence of the Free Speech Movement on college campuses, and an increase in opposition to the Vietnam War. The Civil Rights Movement that began in the 1950s galvanized the country by exposing the ills of inequality and discrimination. By the end of the ‘60s, the man at the forefront of that movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain, but his efforts weren't in vain because much had been accomplished under his leadership with the passage of the voting and fair housing acts. Photo of Georges RizkOne could say that the 1960s was one of the most turbulent, yet promising decades in United States history. There was hope that the events of the ‘60s would usher in peace, the end of wars and the exploration of new frontiers. Then, on the first day of the year in the last decade of the ‘60s, Georges Rizk was born a world away in Lebanon, a war torn country in the Middle East. He would eventually come to a new country seeking and bringing peace, not only for himself but for his family.
From an early age, Georges was exposed to the devastation that war brings. What sustained him was his family, which has always been the center of his life. As a teenager, Georges was performing tasks that were better suited for a man, but he was the oldest son, and his father needed him. So Georges complied without complaint and stepped into manhood well before his time. At the age of 14 his father gave him the keys to the family car and instructed Georges to take his ailing mother to the hospital and take care of her and his siblings while his father worked tirelessly to support his wife and children. Sadly; however, Georges' mother passed away which was a major loss to the close-knit family.
When Georges' family migrated to the United States with his older sister arriving first, they quickly united and became acclimated to their new homeland. Having finally escaped the conditions of war that threatened their lives, Georges remains positive and upbeat about where he is. A welcome addition to the American River College campus, Georges appreciates his job and the CalWORKs program that helped him when he knew he had to go back to school to update his skills in order to support his family, despite having a degree from his former country and years of banking experience. While Georges is pursuing an Accounting degree, he knows that being there as a father and husband is his real career role. He doted on his late father who did so much for his family and continued thanking his first born son for his good deeds in their family's time of need until he recently passed away. Georges was equally as proud of his father who he dearly loved, and his siblings, nieces and nephews and their personal and career accomplishments.
Forward thinking, with a modern approach to parenting, Georges fully supports his wife in her passions and dreams and is always there for his children because his main mission is ensuring that they feel loved and taken care of. Georges doesn't want them to witness the ravages of war or have to be afraid, like he was as a child. So whether it is decorating cookies with his children, keeping up with housework or encouraging family members and fellow students with their troubles, Georges is content and comfortable in whatever he does. Bright, (he is fluent in five languages) affable and kind, Georges cares about everyone who comes up to the CalWORKs window and treats them with respect. If someone is having a bad day, he genuinely has concern about what they might be going through.
Loving and devoted, Georges has been shaped by his experiences and carries himself with a certain joy in his step, and in his heart; you can even see it in his eyes, but there is more there. He is a man who has seen much and understands the fragility of life. Grateful for all he has, Georges knows what is important, so he wastes no time on negativity because no day is promised. He is proud of his birth year. "Nineteen-sixty-nine. Did you know that was when man landed on the moon in the year I was born?" Georges asks. He is right to be proud because that was an impressive event, but not any more so than the arrival of Georges Rizk, a true family man who clearly exudes the message of the ‘60s - "Peace and love. Not War."