• January 27, 2022
 EPCC returning student gains purpose, hope

EPCC returning student gains purpose, hope

When El Paso Community College (EPCC) student Michelle Hazelwood was growing up on an Arizonan farm, she knew she wanted a job that helped people. But the path to achieving her goal wasn’t a straight line.

Instead of enrolling in college right out of high school, she moved to Texas and started a family. A few years later, she became a single mother, and her dreams of college and career were deferred while she focused on providing for her children.  

Once her kids were grown, Michelle found a great job in El Paso at a company that provides services to people with mental health and substance use disorders. Happy to be in a position where she was helping people, Michelle was hesitant when her employer encouraged her to enroll in college. Was it worth it? Could she be successful?

The answer to both questions was a resounding yes.

“Registering at EPCC was probably the best decision I have ever made in my life. I was quickly welcomed with open arms by the staff, the instructors and to be honest, the students as well,” Michelle explains. “I was afraid that I was going to be the oldest one in class with children younger than my own. I soon learned that there are all kinds of students, from all walks of life and all ages.”

Joining EPCC’s Social Work Club is one of the ways Michelle connected with other students during her academic journey. She continues, “The Social Work Club has given me a sense of belonging that I have never truly had before. I cannot imagine attending school and not having these amazing people in my life.”

Michelle has been involved in a variety of service projects, including collecting blankets and warm clothing for the homeless, distributing food at a food bank and distributing toys at Christmas to underprivileged children.

She also reached out to the Delta Center; an emergency homeless shelter opened by the City of El Paso in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and offered to give free haircuts to the residents.

Regarding this volunteer opportunity, Professor Christian Salas, Advisor to the Social Work Club said, “She asked if she could do it under the social work club’s name. As a way of showing solidarity, members have shown up every Saturday to assist in feeding the homeless, while Michelle cuts hair. She is one of our rock star members and I am beyond proud of the work that she and the other club members are doing outside of the classroom. It makes me realize that the social work profession is safe for years to come.”

The Delta Center has since closed but Michelle’s volunteering continues as she gives free haircuts at women’s shelters, homeless shelters treatments centers and for children going back to school.

When reflecting on her experience at EPCC, Michelle says, “It is truly an incredible feeling to be a part of something that is not only going to equip me to be better at my job, but also gives me something that I have always wanted. I am truly for the first time in probably my entire life, doing something for me. Something I am proud of and something that is mine. No one can take away what EPCC is giving to me right now and that’s an education. But beyond that, I have a purpose and I have hope.”

After completing her associate degree and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) Certification, Michelle plans to continue her education at a four-year school and complete a master’s degree. Michelle feels she can pursue these academic goals because EPCC has given her the confidence to do so.

When asked what she would say to potential students who aren’t sure about returning to school, this was Michelle’s response.

“It is never too late, and you are never too old. For anyone out there considering obtaining an education or a degree: DO IT! I promise you won’t be disappointed. I had dreams of this as a kid, and although it may have taken a little longer than planned, I’m achieving them. I am right where I was meant to be all along.”

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Michelle Hazelwood giving a free back-to-school haircut

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