Woodland Adult Education
Nominated in 2018
Olga Torres came to the United States in 1982 at the age of 19, looking for a job to help support her parents and three younger siblings in Mexico. She settled in Castroville, California and worked picking strawberries, packing artichokes, and finally in a nursery. In 1987, hoping to improve her opportunities for a better job, she applied for and was granted amnesty.
She also wanted to improve her English. Walking by the Castroville public library one day, she saw a sign that said, "Free English Classes." Her friends told her the library was for Americans only, but she walked in anyway. It was a decision that would change the trajectory of her life. For over a year, she met with her tutor, soon to become a dear friend, twice a week in the evenings after work. In 2000, she applied for citizenship. Her friends at the Castroville library helped her study and drove her to the exam when the day arrived. Much to her relief, she passed.
Moving to Concord and then Woodland for her husband's job, she continued to help support her parents in Mexico by working as a clerk in the delicatessen in Albertson's supermarket. A serious job injury in 2011 made it necessary to stop working. On disability and in considerable pain, she enrolled in the High School Diploma program at Woodland Adult Education (WAE). Within a year and a half, she earned her high school diploma and was awarded a $750 scholarship to Woodland Community College.
While studying at WAE, she was chosen to participate in a Young Entrepreneurs class sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The class introduced her to the possibilities of a career in business, something that had long interested her. She also completed the class and passed a notary public exam, volunteered at the Salvation Army store, and, remembering the impact her library tutor had had on her life, volunteered to tutor through the Woodland public library literacy program.
At Woodland Community College, she was a work-study student the first year and also volunteered in the Multicultural Center. Olga will be graduating from Woodland Community College on May 25, with an acceptance letter to Sacramento State University business school in hand. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would go to a university in the United States," Olga said. Yet, with her vision, commitment, and joy of learning, Olga made the impossible possible. In the future, Olga hopes to use her knowledge of American business to help immigrants become successful business owners.