He was once homeless and supported himself playing pool and gambling. Now, Ruben Sepulveda, '11, helps homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless.
At The Partnership for the Homeless, Sepulveda, 39, is a family advocate who assists people with short-term and long-term solutions to prevent homelessness and help them gain independence.He works out of the Manhattan-based organization's office in Brooklyn, N.Y., in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city.
"My job as a family advocate is to help them through the process so they don't get evicted or to work with them to get entitlement benefits so they can find housing," said Sepulveda, who lives in Queens. "We aren't just providing a Band-Aid type solution. We want to make it more lasting so they never find themselves in that situation again."
Sepulveda credits his own turnaround in part to the associate degree he received at HCC, which enabled him to transfer to Amherst College. Just a few months after earning his bachelor's degree in sociology in May 2013, he landed his current job.
After being homeless for a few years in the mid-2000s in New York City, Sepulveda moved back in with his parents in Holyoke at age 32. He ended up at HCC after a chance encounter at a gas station in 2008 with Aliza Ansell, program coordinator for HCC's Adult Learning Center. In line for coffee, the two began talking about parenting and philosophy and other topics, and ultimately struck up a friendship.
After many meetings, Sepulveda took her advice and enrolled at HCC.
Although anxious about returning to school after so many years, Sepulveda quickly adjusted. He challenged himself with Honors courses - a move he believes prepared him for transfer to Amherst College, his dream school.
"The fact that the Honors classes were particularly rigorous and that I was able to do the work made me feel like could meet the same degree of rigor at Amherst College," he said. "My professors at HCC were phenomenal. They gave me the confidence to do the work. Overall, it was a learning experience, not just from the subject matter they taught us but how we approach learning."
At Amherst College, Sepulveda bonded with other transfer students, many of them older, like himself, who went back to college for a variety of reasons. They shared stories about their educational journeys and what they hoped to achieve.
These days, Sepulveda doesn't take sole credit for pulling himself out of that downward spiral that at one point found him sleeping in parks in New York City. Instead, he said "an army of people" ultimately helped him to earn his degrees and find full-time, benefited work.
"You need help and sometimes you have to seek it," he says. "I was very fortunate that I had people in my corner."
Story by Judith Kelliher
Photos of Ruben Sepulveda courtesy of Amherst College