Editor’s Note: Despite the necessary adjustment to virtual instruction for part of this semester, more than 6,000 talented Fresno State students will earn their degrees in May and move on to become the next generation of leaders in the Central Valley and beyond. While every hardworking graduate deserves to be recognized, for the rest of the semester we will be sharing the inspiring stories of graduates like this one who have achieved at the highest levels or have overcome remarkable challenges. As University President Joseph I. Castro previously announced, the University looks forward to celebrating all of its deserving graduates at an in-person ceremony at a later date when it is deemed safe to do so.

Two Fresno State Child and Family Science Department seniors are helping local families find much-needed resources during the COVID-19 pandemic through internships with the Central Valley Children’s Services Network.

Fresno natives Jessica Jimenez and Selene Lopez Espinoza were matched with the Fresno-based organization as community outreach assistants through the department’s internship class. The capstone course is overseen by faculty member Dr. Aimee Rickman, and partners with 17 community organizations to give students real-world professional experiences and contacts.

“It’s been really rewarding to advocate for families,” Jimenez said. “Many of them are living with food insecurity issues due to job cutbacks or layoffs, so I’ve been able to refer them to local community food banks where they can receive free food and other assistance.”

Her dream — to work with youth as a career — stems back to her freshman year at Caruthers High School when she worked with children while parents attended a weekly school meeting. After Jimenez graduates this May, she hopes to use her degree to help youth dealing with abuse and neglect. She is considering organizations like the Family Healing Center, Child Protective Services or an adoption agency as her next career step.

“I believe every child deserves to live in a home where love is always given to them,” said Jimenez. “Being able to advocate and connect with others will be important no matter where I work or go in life.”

Her degree holds extra meaning because her path to a degree started in 2012. After taking two years of general education classes at Fresno State towards a biology major, Jimenez took time off to work as her father was planning to move to Oklahoma. She later restarted college at Fresno City College in 2016, then returned to Fresno State in 2017.

“It has felt like forever at times (to get my degree),” Jimenez said, “but the obstacles I’ve persevered through makes it that much more of an accomplishment.”

Part of this semester’s internship involved training with her supervisor, Lou Hernandez, a parent outreach coordinator who has worked with the organization for over 22 years.

“I’ve learned so much from Lou and all my professors at Fresno State,” said Jimenez. “We are very fortunate to have mentors who are passionate and inspire you to be someone you never imagined you could be.”

Lopez Espinoza, a first-generation college student also graduating this May, had similar experiences helping families through the organization. In recent calls with parents, she helped them address concerns about paying bills, accessing food and technology services and transitioning their children to online learning.

Lopez Espinoza offers her own unique outlook of hope. She is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient and overcame low social economic status while raised by her single mother, Martha. The experience confirmed her career path and a future goal to obtain a master’s degree so that she can become a high school or college counselor and empower students in their higher education journeys.

“I am proud to work with this organization because of its unique services and programs,” Lopez Espinoza said. “The past month has helped me grow tremendously as I reach out to families in a very stressful time. Our classes and internships are giving us valuable skills to create solutions for others.”