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How UNG program helps 40 migrant students
08192018 MIGRANT 4.jpg
Ulyses Acevedo brings his things to The Preserve at Tumbling Creek apartments Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. He's taking part in the University of North Georgia's College Assistance Migrant Program. - photo by Scott Rogers

Ulyses Acevedo shares an epic first name — though spelled differently — with an American Civil War general and a classic book by James Joyce, and is the Latinized version of Odysseus, the mythological hero in Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

Recently, the gods of fortune smiled on the aspiring artist and Acevedo, 18, has set out on an odyssey of his own.

He is one of 40 students from migrant families recruited to enroll at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville through the first-year scholarship College Assistance Migrant Program.

Acevedo said he desires to study film and video production with the help of this program, which provides federal funds for tuition assistance, personalized academic advisement, a stipend for books, and workshops to improve and develop students through cultural and service-learning opportunities.

CAMP, now operating in its fourth year off a $2.1 million, five-year federal grant, is a “steppingstone” to a college degree, said Christian Bello Escobar, director of migrant programs and services at UNG.

And most of these students will become the first in their family to receive a university education.

Students from migrant-working families — where a parent has worked with raw food products, such as in poultry plants, on a winery or egg farm, or in other agricultural trades — qualify for the program. The students also have permanent residency status to live, work and study in the United States.

College Assistance Migrant Program at the University of North Georgia

2016-17: 47 enrolled, 39 completed, 35 stayed at UNG past their freshman year

2017-18: 44 enrolled, 39 completed, 39 projected to stay at UNG past freshman year

2018-19: 40 enrolled

Source: University of North Georgia

On Monday, Aug. 13, Acevedo and 17 other students enrolled in the program  moved into Hawks Nest at The Preserve apartments on Campus Pointe Circle off Tumbling Creek Road. The complex is just minutes from campus and on the UNG bus line, making it a perfect fit for the students.

The program also helps cover housing costs for these students; UNG’s Gainesville campus does not have residence halls.

“The reality is our students have that need” for financial and mentoring assistance, Bello Escobar said. “It’s a little more challenging for them.”

Among Acevedo’s roommates is Dawit Badi, whose family came as refugees to the United States from Eritrea, an East African nation. And there’s Carlos Garcia, whose family came from Mexico to work seasonal agriculture jobs across the Southeast. Acevedo’s own family originates from El Salvador.

And the CAMP enrollees come from many places across Georgia after their families settled in the Peach State.

Badi most recently lived with his family in Clarkston, for example.

And Acevedo said he heard about CAMP through a cousin while finishing school at Cedar Shoals High in Athens.

Sarah Junco, who recruits students eligible for CAMP, said she had previously worked in Athens, so the Classic City has become a fertile recruiting ground for her.

But Hall County, the “Poultry Capital of the World,” remains a significant pipeline for CAMP because of its large Latino migrant population — as well as the existence of public school programs to support the children of migrant workers while they advance toward a high school diploma.

Katlyn Mayer, whose parents are Mexican and Caucasian, said she was part of a migrant education program while attending Hall County Schools. But even so, she was largely unfamiliar with CAMP.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said about life after graduating high school.

Now, as a sophomore at UNG, she said she wants to help incoming CAMP enrollees because her experience in the program last year was so positive. Mayer said the scholarship helped her commit to seeking a college degree.

Daniela Olalde, whose family comes from Mexico, has also completed the program as a freshman and is now supporting the next cast of migrant students. She said CAMP brings like-minded individuals with similar or familiar family backgrounds together.

And that can be a big relief for these students who are living away from home for the first time.

For Acevedo, moving out on his own was made easier by the presence of siblings and his mother last week as he unpacked his things in his new apartment.

His sisters said the family was proud of Acevedo. It’s not unusual in Latino cultures for family members to live together well into adulthood.

But Acevedo said he’s ready for the challenges ahead.

“If it’s something I want … I just go for it,” he added.

Nevertheless, the fact Acevedo has his own place and lives an hour from his family’s home has his mother, Norma, admitting to some maternal worry.

But her pride in her son is evident, too, and after a few hours she’s feeling more comfortable about his next step in life.

“Muy contento,” she said.

She’s very happy for her son.