By Melanie Raskin
Damaris Govea was disheartened. After immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico as an 18-year-old, she’d worked hard to learn English and earn a college degree, but she couldn’t break through to a satisfying career and was continually sidelined into low-paying jobs. One day, tired of knocking on doors closed to opportunity, Govea decided to change everything. San Manuel Gateway College, a part of Loma Linda University Health’s outreach mission, was her open door to hope. Now, the 36-year-old mother of two teens and a June 2021 program graduate has a surgery technologist certification.
Best of all, she’s found a career doing what she loves: helping people when they are most vulnerable. Govea sets up the operating room instruments and assists surgeons at Loma Linda University Health. “This is not about a job,” she said. “It’s about following my true passion. Gateway College helped me achieve my dream.”
Gateway College was a smart choice for an older student and single mom. A shorter, faster curriculum in a technical health care field with plentiful job opportunities made sense. But the 18-month certification program had its challenges. At one point during COVID, times were hard. In financial trouble, Goveacouldn’t afford to keep commuting to school while juggling working a part-time job, doing her homework and raising two teenagers. After a lot of soul-searching, exhausted and dispirited, Govea made the heartbreaking decision to drop out. San Manuel Gateway College made the heart-lifting decision to help out. In a matter of days, financial assistance came through, and Govea was able to complete her certification. “Even when you can’t go another step, they care,” she explained. “People say, ‘we’re here for you,’ but at the end of day when you finally get the courage to ask for help, nothing happens. What’s the point of opening my heart? But Gateway doesn’t let you down. I wouldn’t be here without them. It’s not an institution, they’re my family.”
Now with a fulfilling career and a new goal of becoming a registered nurse, Govea feels she’s learned more than just how to be an integral part of a surgeon’s (and patient’s) support team. “If you persist, have faith in yourself and leave it all in God’s hands, God will guide you on your path. I thought I was a failure. But thanks to San Manuel, I love myself now. It’s amazing. Loma Linda Health gave me a permanent job. For the first time in my life, I have real benefits, I can provide for my children, I have security. I can continue the ministry of my life: to help others.”
Photo: Damaris Govea with Arwyn Wild, executive director of Gateway College