Cavalier Care Center fills hearts with hope

“I was received with open arms, and it changed my life, a complete 180.”
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 11:14 PM CDT
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BOSSIER CITY, La. (KSLA) — Bossier Parish Community College is giving out more than just education. Its Cavalier Care Center was created to address insecurities that are barriers for BPCC students.

The school isn’t just satisfying their appetite for knowledge, they’re also filling hearts with hope.

In 2018, an idea to combat food insecurity for students was born. It was the first college-initiated food pantry in northwest Louisiana, designed to help students access emergency food items on campus.

Nursing student Jennifer Hernandez told KSLA’s Priscilla Borrego that if it weren’t for the program, she would have quit going to college.

“I had a lot of financial problems going on, um, and family problems and it was all crashing down on me,” Hernandez recalled. “And I am not from this state, so I know absolutely nobody here. I am originally from Atlanta; so I come from a big city to come to something, so you know, so small I didn’t think help was even here.”

Hernandez said the Cavalier Care Center was able to assist her with basic necessities, wrap-around services and to educate her about other state programs. Now she is finally able to get by on her own.

“At the point to where they even got me to a point where I didn’t even need the help anymore. But even though I don’t need the help anymore, I am so addicted here like, I will still come here and say hello, how are you guys doing,” she said. “And if it wasn’t for them, again I mentioned over and over again, I would not be a nurse student like, I just wouldn’t be a nursing student if it weren’t for this place.”

The pantry has evolved since 2018. In the fall of 2020, it combined forces with the Cavalier Care Center, which allowed it to triple in size, assist individuals with hygiene products and officially become a USDA-approved pantry.

BPCC knows that if their students don’t have enough food, they’re more likely to have lower grades and may not have a shot at graduating.

“When we started the pantry, we didn’t know the magnitude of starting the pantry,” said Sandra Roberson, director of the Cavalier Care Center. “And we realized we saw a significance in our students that were going hungry, that did not have the resources that they needed to be able to survive in college.”

Roberson wants students to know that the services provided here are considered a hand up, and not a handout.

“It brings joy to the students. They love coming in here, they love a safe place to come, a place that will assist them with whatever they need, whether it is housing, we help students with housing if they are displaced,” Roberson said. “We help students with any resource that they need. We are a caring campus, and we just want to let them know that you have someone on campus who cares about you in your journey in college.”

That couldn’t be more true for Vanessa Nganga, a mother of five who had been working toward pursuing her associate degree for the past two decades. Struggling with homelessness, unemployment and driving two hours a day to attend classes had taken a toll. Giving up on her continued education, yet again, seemed to be the only option.

“I was actually coming in to quit school, and Ms. Sandra just smiled at me and prayed with me. She had let me know that I had come too far in order to give up now,” Nganga said.

“I gave her the grocery list of barriers preventing me from being successful at BPCC, it’s difficult to study for an exam when you are worried about oh, am I going to be able to eat, or where am I going to lay my head tonight, or do I have medical coverage or medical insurance.”

Nganga said the support she received was instrumental for her and her family. And because of the overwhelming support from the Cavalier Care Center, gradually those barriers began to fall to the side, allowing her the opportunity to continue with her education.

“I was able to apply for housing through this program. I was able to get Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, Christmas gifts. I wasn’t even going to walk across the stage when I finally graduated because I couldn’t afford the cap and gown; and Ms. Sandra was like, no, Cavalier Care Center’s got you.”

After countless attempts to complete her associate degree …

“I graduated with my associate degree, and I had been trying for 20 years to get my associate degree. Five different states, and this was the first one that I can honestly say that had anything cater to a wrap-around service for the success of their students.”

And she didn’t stop there; it was just the momentum that she needed to keep going. She enrolled at LSU Health Shreveport and worked toward her bachelor of science degree in medical laboratory science.

“And when I float across that stage, this is the reason why.”

A dream that had become her reality. What seemed impossible finally came to fruition.

And it all had to do with the hope that bloomed in the walls of the Cavalier Care Center. Because on that day she walked in to quit, she left with a glimpse of hope that would carry her to a new beginning.

“I was received with open arms, and it changed my life, a complete 180.”