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Rep. Bonamici meets with PCC's Future Connect scholars, Hillsboro's interns

PMG PHOTO: SHELBY COKELEY - Rep. Suzanne Bonamici speaks with a panel of Hillsboro city interns and Portland Community College leaders and students, including Jennifer Cruz-Hernandez (left) and Alejandra Guzman (right).Student voices don't fall upon deaf ears.

Future Connect students at Portland Community College, PCC leaders and high school students interning at the City of Hillsboro greeted U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Beaverton Democrat, at the Hillsboro Civic Center on Monday, Aug. 5.

Bonamici heard from students about their experiences with PCC and city programs, who spoke about how those initiatives work to increase opportunity and economic mobility for local students — low-income students and students of color in particular.

"Several years ago, we made internships one of our top priorities, and each year we have close to 30 interns at the city, and for a city of our size, we're very proud of that," said PCC Future Connect program director Josh Laurie. "We just finished our sixth year, which means there've been about 300 people who've gained assets through this program."

Future Connect advertises itself as "a scholarship and support program for students who identify as first-generation or low-income." Its focus is on eliminating barriers to college and providing students with on-going support during their time at PCC, according to program leaders.

Every year, Future Connect receives roughly 800 to 1,000 applicants and awards 350 to 400 recipients based on funding.

Bonamici made a point to ask Future Connect students and city interns how their journeys began. Many students — including Pacific University attendees Fernando Aguilar and Alejandra Guzman — cited resources such as high school counselors, informative webpages and PCC faculty for showing them these opportunities existed.

Aguilar, undocumented while looking into attending college, and Jennifer Cruz-Hernandez, a current DACA student, both praised their Future Connect coaches for providing them support not only during the application and advising process, but also during more difficult times.

"When I graduated high school in 2014, there were a lot of questions about my future, being an undocumented student," Aguilar said. "But Future Connect gave me opportunities to support myself, build my confidence and empower me to pursue higher education."

Cruz-Hernandez, now attending PCC, considers herself especially lucky to have found Future Connect, given that she cannot receive federal aid for her education due to her DACA status.

Bonamici described the rule preventing DACA recipients from getting federal aid as a "huge problem" and a roadblock to educational attainment. She said she is working to remove it.

"I know how much diversity means to this community, and really, how much it means across the country," Bonamici said. "So just know, while we're going through a really hard time right now, there are many of us fighting for meaningful and humane immigration reform."

PMG PHOTO: SHELBY COKELEY - Rep. Suzanne Bonamici poses with Future Connect students from Portland Community College at the Hillsboro Civic Center Monday, Aug. 5.After students shared their personal stories, Bonamici praised their vision for their futures and their work to get where they are today.

"I'm glad many of you mentioned that you don't know where you would be without Future Connect," Bonamici said. "That's a very powerful message that proves it's truly made a difference for all of you in helping you accomplish your goals and break down barriers."

Students concluded the meeting by asking Bonamici questions, such as how they can be heard by local government and make significant and positive changes in their community.

"I want to emphasize that your voices are much more important than dollars," Bonamici said.

She assured students and leaders that continuing their current work and "diving in" to a cause they care about is the best action they can take, in addition to attending town hall meetings, staying active on social media and contacting their local representatives.

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