“I was always afraid, because I knew that college was expensive.  When my first child attended college, I did not have any knowledge of the process. It was a traumatic moment for me.”

These are the words of Araceli, a mother of four Wave-Makers. For CAP Senior College Financial Services Coordinator Ana Calderon, working with parents like Araceli is a favorite part of her job.

As a first-generation college student herself, Ms. Calderon understands how daunting the college application process can be. “I can see that sense of ‘I’m afraid, I’m nervous, I don’t know what to expect,’ because that’s what I saw in my parents’ eyes as well. I tell the parents that, which helps them trust me,” says Ms. Calderon. “I hold them very dear to my heart, because every family resembles my parents. That idea of ‘I came to this country for a better life, I came to this country because I want the best for my children, but I don’t know the roadmap.’ We’re here to provide them with that roadmap.”

Twelve years ago, Ms. Calderon started working with Making Waves ago as an intern in the Business Services department. Part of what connects her to the mission is its relevance to her own story. As a teenager in East Palo Alto, Ms. Calderon was one of the first participants in College Track. “I was lucky enough to have a support program just like Making Waves, so I know these programs work,” she says. “My parents relied a lot on College Track. They were my Making Waves.”

Ms. Calderon and the financial services team start working with parents when their children are juniors at Making Waves Academy. Programming during the students’ senior year is extensive, with workshops and presentations for parents and students from fall until spring. “I start by telling parents, ‘I know financial aid can be complex—if we were just to sit here and just give one-time financial aid presentation and throw all this information at you, that wouldn’t be very effective,’” says Ms. Calderon. “Once I explain the whole process, once the parents say, ‘I appreciate it,’ I know I’ve done my job.”

This ongoing partnership builds a sense of trust between parents and CAP staff. In the words of Araceli, “I was so scared of the college process that I had said to my oldest child that the best thing for him would be to attend a community college. I knew that community college was cheaper.  However, after meeting with Ms. Chavez and Ms. Calderon, they reassured me that he was ready for a four-year university,” she says. “My oldest son Victor graduated from UC Riverside with zero debt.  A lot of people don’t believe this.  Many tell me that CAP will ask for the money back later.  But, I perfectly know that is not going to be the case.”

In addition to working with parents, Ms. Calderon partners with students to guide them towards finding a college or university that’s the best financial fit. “I’ll turn to the student and say ‘I was once you. I know you have great dreams and great aspirations and want to go far in life.  I am here to help you. I’m not here to say that you can’t go anywhere, but I can give the recommendation to go where you can afford. We want our students to graduate with as little debt as possible, and therefore we guide our students and families to make the best financial fit college choice,’” says Ms. Calderon.

“After we review their financial aid award letter, they’re crying because they’re just so proud of what they’ve accomplished, and they’re crying tears of joy because they can afford to go to that school. That’s one of the best parts of working with Making Waves Academy students.”