Melvin Pastores wasn't intending to go back to school. "I was bringing some clients to Phoenix College to sign up for classes. Next thing you know, I'm signing up," he chuckled. Originally from Yuma, where he was San Pasqual High School's student body president, Melvin has the innate ability to connect people to community services and provide support. He works as a 2 Luv 1 Another Peer Support Specialist for the Native American Wellness and Care Center in Phoenix that brings formerly incarcerated people together for rehabilitation in a clinical setting.
Thanks to a computer lab at his place of work, Melvin takes online classes at Phoenix College in the mornings and continues his clinic work in the afternoons. Having already earned a certificate in Administration of Justice, Melvin is now completing coursework in behavioral health with plans to transfer to a four-year program after his May 2024 graduation. He ultimately plans to take the skills learned from his two programs and become a social worker. "I want to finish my education. My mother wanted one of her children to go to college, and I've been going to school ever since. First time, second time, third time's a charm," he said smiling.
Melvin has had to learn how to do school all over again, so he was grateful for the First Year Experience (FYE) class that helps incoming students find their field of interest (FOI), which solidified that social work was the perfect fit for him. Having spent a few years in prison, Melvin knows what his clients are going through and the support they need to succeed. He, too, continues to turn his life around. Sober for eight years and making a good living, Melvin looks for opportunities to be a better person. He is a member of the Quechan Nation and values the indigenous people around the country as well as his culture and native tradition. He cooks as a hobby.
Melvin is President of PC's Native American Student Association (NASA) club. He led the group’s participation in the 39th annual Native American Connections Parade, handing out candy and club flyers to spectators. The club won 2nd place for their participation in the parade's school division. In his first college experience, Melvin was a student photographer and his involvement on campus helped him connect. "It was fun back then, and it's still fun today," he said. His presence on campus is making an impact. The club "is bringing our native people together" and encouraging members to be involved in the Indian community.
A PC student representative for Takeoff, an initiative led by the USC Race and Equity Center, which is committed to transforming the higher education experiences of Black, Latinx, Southeast Asian, and Native American men as part of its Men of Color Initiative, Melvin attended an all-expenses-paid four-day, four-night leadership retreat in Los Angeles where he networked with other community college student reps to share resources. Melvin believes those kinds of opportunities and incentives will address underrepresented populations and low postsecondary outcomes for male students of color. "Naturally, I want to be involved in helping students to better themselves," Melvin said. While Melvin explores ways to network across the District and bring native Maricopa County Community College District students together to tell their stories, he's also thinking about those who have never been to college and how campuses can engage and excite them about pursuing an education.
He sees one of his roles as advocate: "We have to encourage people that there are programs at PC–counseling, wellness, and other resources like food, housing funds, daycare–to address anything that might hold one back from pursuing an education," he said. Melvin took advantage of the Loan2Own Laptop program and counseling services. "The counseling department is tremendous," he said. "They saw me through the whole academic year."
In his classes, Melvin is reconnecting with writing. "I did a lot of writing while incarcerated. I didn't know what I was writing for, but now I know that there is a purpose." In a class with Social Work Program Director Sandra Leal, he explored meditation as a tool to address everyday stress and wrote a reflection that Dr. Leal described as beautiful. "I've never had a professor tell me my writing is beautiful. That touched me," Melvin said. "I wrote my sister a birthday message, and she too said, 'I will treasure your letter.' I did not know that my writing was inspirational to family and friends, but those little things are so important."
Whether writing, connecting his clients to services, or engaging other students in campus and community life, Melvin integrates his service with self-discovery: "I will be more of myself every day and everywhere."
If you want to make a real difference in the lives of underrepresented and vulnerable populations, consider PC's Associate of Arts_Emphasis in Social Work program today.