Name: Nick Sanchez
Class: Heartland Class of 1998
Degree: Associate of Arts
Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach
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Nick: My name is Nick Sanchez, and I graduated from Heartland Community College with an Associates of Arts in 1998.
Colleen: What led you to Heartland? Why did you choose Heartland to begin your higher education career?
Nick: I chose Heartland over Lincoln College. It was the only other actual college in town here that I was considering because of its reputation, and my family had told me about it. They really thought it was similar to what my high school was. It was close in town and felt like more of a family atmosphere when you walked in. People that I talked to at Heartland still remember me now, and what’s funny is that I just received a mentor in a leadership program that I am in, and it happens to be my old adviser from Heartland so that was pretty cool.
Colleen: So it sounds like you continue to stay connected?
Nick: Sure, I stay connected with Heartland just because I have heard throughout the years that Heartland is getting bigger. Heartland is growing, and they bought new space in town. I never really knew that I was going to be moving back to Bloomington-Normal, but I always kind of felt that Heartland was my first college experience, and it was something I didn’t really want to ever let go of because it was propelled me into a larger university. I think if I would have had not such a positive experience at Heartland, I probably would not have wanted to extend my post secondary education and move onto a larger university.
Colleen: So now you are the executive of the Boys and Girls Club in Bloomington-Normal, and that's a job that has all kinds of unique challenges.
Nick: I've been here almost 9 months, and you're correct with the challenges. I've been given the tasks of revitalizing this organization, keeping it on track, making sure that it's providing the services it says it's providing to the community, and really just holding the board, the staff and the overall club members accountable for what an actual boys and girls club should be offering in a community.
Colleen: We know with social service agencies and not-for-profit organizations these days, there are also funding challenges that you are facing. I know recently you received a grant, but I'm sure you have a lot of challenges on the financial front.
Nick: Absolutely. We were recently awarded a grant by Comcast to upgrade our technology center, but prior to that, right around the beginning of the summer, we received word that our two largest funding sources were cutting their funds. One was cutting their funding by around 41% over the next 2 years and the other was around 20% for this year. So coming in with challenges already on the list, those quickly rose to the top because we needed to fill those voids immediately so we didn’t have to stop any of the services being offered to the kids right now.
Colleen: So lets talk about that a little bit. What does the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal do for young people these days?
Nick: Currently, we are serving children between the ages of 5-13 and then teens in high school from 14-18. Any day and every day after school children and teens can come to the club and count on having a positive relationship with one of the staff here, and that’s what really separates the Boys and Girls Club from other organizations. Everyone has similar programs, everyone has similar facilities, but what the Boys and Girls Club has are staff that actually care, get involved and are really strong bonded with the children. It is not uncommon to see family members come in and ask to speak with staff about personal issues, and really, the bond that staff builds with the kids and families is something that we have seen stay with the children for years to come.
Colleen: And you have a lot of at-risk youth that come here after school, so what kind of support does this staff provide? Specifically, what are you having the kids do when they come here after school?
Nick: When they first walk in, they have a snack because we understand that they're only eating what’s provided to them at school. So once they come in and eat their belly's are full, and they are able to get involved with some focused and organized programs, whether it is programs under the education aspect, health, sports, arts, or somewhere around the recreational parts that we have in the club. So, it is not uncommon that kids come in and get help with their homework, research projects, science projects, and at the same time, they have the opportunity to go down stairs and play in a pool tournament, go next door and play some basketball, browse the internet, and check their email; all within a safe confined area with positive adults watching.
Colleen: So as we talk about finances and financial support, I would imagine that that you would have had to write some grants and do some type of event fundraising. How does your Heartland education help you with those kinds of challenges?
Nick: The largest thing I learned at Heartland that has carried through my career is the fact that if I want something done, I need to get it done on my own. I can't sit and wait for someone to hand me an opportunity. I can't sit back and wait to see if things will change on their own. I remember first starting at Heartland. The professors told me that there was not going to be anybody holding my hand here, and there was not anybody that is going to be pushing you to the limits. They told me they needed to see that I wanted to get things done, I wanted to be a part of my education and from there help will stem and come your way. They were right. I had to put a serious effort in and find what I wanted to do by participating in the program and classes. The same thing goes with my career now, if I want something changed, I need to move it forward on my own.
Colleen: Heartland is a different place than when you completed your education. They have added extra-curricular activities, sports and a lot more student life. What do you think about how far it has come since you left?
Nick: It's absolutely awesome to see the school expand and flourish the way it has. I loved it just being in the little parking lot with annex buildings. I remember eating lunch in the parking lot, and thought they used the space well when they first started by Arby's, but now with the new campus in Normal, reading about baseball players having other opportunities to play at other universities and seeing the sports teams and clubs Heartland has just shows why Heartland is at the forefront of education. They don't ever sit and really rest. They are moving to actually expand and do more just like they want their students to expand and do more with their education and career. The University has been a great model for the students.
Colleen: President Goben has initiated something called the “Guided Path to Success” in which Heartland is trying to reach into the high schools and even some of the junior highs to help students plan better for their future education and career. What do you think of the idea of trying to get children to start thinking sooner about what they want to do when they grow up?
Nick: It's one of the main education goals we have here. We have a program that's called “Diplomas to Degrees,” and it is designed to really get teenagers and high school students thinking about their post-secondary education. We are not necessarily pushing them into attending college; we are really just finding out where their interest is and what they want to learn after high school. We want them to know it is okay to be a part of an automotive program, culinary program or any other type of program outside of college just as long as you’re extending and trying to add onto your education that you have already put in through high school because everyone knows it’s a cut throat work world out there. White collar, blue collar or wherever you’re going to end up, you want to be competitive in the job market, and in order to do this, you need to have some type of post secondary education. Heartland is a great way to get that start.
Colleen: For the students who are at Heartland now and may hear this, what advice do you have for them about how they spend their time at Heartland?
Nick: Enjoy it while it lasts. I can't believe I am sitting here looking at 10 years out of Heartland. It goes so fast that if you don’t really sit down, enjoy it and make the relationships at Heartland, you lose that time and those opportunities. You don't ever get a chance to go back and rebuild them. So the time you have there may feel as if it is taking forever to get to your next school or taking too long to get something done, but it's not. Everything takes time, and there's a reason why things are taking so long. Accept it, embrace your time there, and in the end when it’s all over, you'll look back and hopefully say “Wow! I put it all together when I was there; I left it all on the field.”
Colleen: Nick Sanchez thanks for sharing your story.
Nick: Thank you.