Welcome center offers more than a friendly hello

By Kathy Cecchin

East Los Angeles College’s Welcome and Support Resource Center hides in the maze that is the Monterey, California, campus, but it’s worth finding. Tucked away in the E1 Student Services building, next to the Financial Services office, the Welcome Center shares an office with Career and Job Services.

The Center’s Director, Linda Rafols, says the department arose out students’ frustration with having to scour the campus to get answers to their questions. In the summer of 2016, the Welcome Center emerged as a landing pad for applicants and one-stop shop for students for answers to questions or referrals to the right department through staff, pamphlets and online links.

For new ELAC students, the center offers everything needed to get started, from navigating the application process to a walkthrough of the new SIS system (online registration). Current students can take advantage of their workshops that help ensure success during a tenure at ELAC:  Time and Stress Management workshops and Roadmap to Graduation. The office houses computers and wifi for those who don’t have access at home. Staff members are Certified Allies (trained in supporting undocumented students and LGBTQ students) and the center is considered a “safe zone.”

But it’s the manner in which these services are delivered that makes the difference. Whether staff is answering the phone (which doesn’t always happen at other departments) or greeting visitors at the office, the level of cheer they offer is refreshing.

Rofols credits the cherry atmosphere as an attempt to establish themselves, being a new program on campus. Her support staff credits her with the happy atmosphere. “Linda brings the joy,” says Student Ambassador Brittney Perez, “She makes us feel comfortable.” Brittney graduates from ELAC this year to study Psychology at the University of California, Irvine.

Staff Ambassador and former ELAC student Carlos Figueroa considers his primary job to act as a link between students and the resources that serve them, from the first-time applicant looking for financial assistance to the graduate inquiring after caps and gowns. He says his easy manner with visitors to the center is based on being empathetic to the undergrads’ struggles. Students who attended ELAC before the center was established often ask, “Where were you when I was here?” when they visit.

Student Support Staff Manuel Valdovinos attributes the easy-going atmosphere of the office to the camaraderie of the people on the team. “In order to do this job, you need to be social person – someone who adapts easily and is a go-getter,” Valdovinos says, “The job attracts a certain kind of individual. I think that’s why we’re all pretty like-minded on and comfortable with each other.” He is getting ready to transfer to California State University, Los Angeles to study Rehabilitation Services for people suffering from mental health disabilities and recovering from addiction.

If there is any threat that Perez, Figueroa or Valdovinos may be leaving their positions to pursue their higher education elsewhere, Rofols better be doing  some recruiting to retain the customer service level to which ELAC students have become accustomed. Valdovinos not only provides information and guidance, he also offers chauffeur services.

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