Unlike AmeriCorps, the California Service Plan Benefits Residents and the Undocumented

by Gabby Birenbaum
November 18, 2022

Wendi Lizola was struggling.

The Sacramento State University student had difficulty paying her rent during her freshman year. Lizola grew up in Modesto, the city of a quarter million in the heart of California’s agriculturally rich central valley, an hour’s drive from Sacramento, but the pre-nursing student was born in Michoacán, Mexico, and is undocumented.

Although her two older sisters are among the so-called Dreamers, which means they have work permits, Lizola was only 14 the last time the federal DACA program (Deferred Action for Children Arrivals) accepted applications, making her ineligible for its benefits. As an undocumented college student, she could not find a job, much less a meaningful experience for her résumé.

But relief came in the form of a referral from her older sisters, who had heard of a new statewide program, CollegeCorps, which provides California’s postsecondary students financial aid in exchange for community service. Lizola was thrilled when she learned that undocumented students could join the program. She applied in May, was accepted, and is now in her second year at “Sac State.” Lizola even earns credits for tutoring math three times a week at a local middle school. In exchange, the state of California wrote her a check for $10,000, meeting her housing costs and giving the aspiring pediatric nurse invaluable experience working with kids. “I was nervous about it because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s middle school students—they’re brutal,’” she recalls. “But surprisingly, I love it!”

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