By Ann Marie Galvan
City College launched a new student basic needs center, SparkPoint, in October. Located in the Science Hall, SparkPoint operates in partnership with the non-profit United Way Bay Area (UWBA) and allows students to access multiple City College resources and services in one place.
Basic needs for students include access to sufficient and nutritious food, transportation, housing, clean water, and hygiene products. Studies show that when students’ basic needs are met, they are better able to succeed in their education.
From mental health services, counseling, the food pantry, or a benefit screening for accessing CalFresh, SparkPoint is meant to be a catch-all resource for students. “If we make sure that we cover basic needs, then people have the ability to focus on education and schooling and less on trying to solve other issues,” said Nicole Harden, vice president of economic success at UWBA, the non-profit which helped launch SparkPoint.
For now, students who want a hygiene product or food are able to take four items: two hygiene products and two food items per day, explained Alicia Fausto, basic needs coordinator at SparkPoint. The center is also family-oriented and has an entertainment space for children, as well as study spaces.
SparkPoint is currently trying to grow their food pantry so City College can address food insecurity for students without relying on outside help. In the past, City College has partnered with the San-Francisco Marin Food Bank, and offered weekly food boxes for students. Students could also receive food cards to purchase groceries, said Dr. Tessa Henderson-Brown, associate dean of equity and director of SparkPoint at City College. “We wanted to branch out and create a food pantry specifically for City College. That’s something we’re thinking about long term, and it’s going to take us time to get to that point. But we know there’s a need.”
The center not only serves students enrolled at City College for credit, but also non-credit students and members of the community. Students and their families are welcome to SparkPoint services, Dr. Henderson-Brown said, because they might be encouraged to enroll.
Financial literacy and coaching are also offered by SparkPoint, and the center partners with Patelco Credit Union, where it offers financial wellness workshops to help students budget and improve their credit. Importantly, with nearly 20,000 students enrolled at City College, SparkPoint recognizes that services need to accommodate all.
“A lot of things are cultural. Even what we spend our money on is cultural. Even the expense of our food can be related to our cultural diets,” Harden said. “For me, I identify as Black. And as a Black woman, part of my budget is my hair. If I were working with a coach directly and they were like, ‘you don’t need to have that much money designated for hair’ then it’s completely throwing off my ability to think about saving money. I don’t want to work with that coach anymore.”
Some may feel there is a stigma to accessing services or receiving care, but the center aims for compassion and making accessing services as easy as possible for students. “This is a welcoming, stigma-free zone,” said Fausto. “If students need some help and we can’t provide it, maybe we can provide something else. We’re always here to strategize with students to see how we can best meet whatever goals they have.”