Americorps Volunteer Guides Pinal Students Through Financial Aid Maze

by Blake Herzog

The AmeriCorps program is known for sending volunteers from every corner of the nation to serve the public, often to another corner of the country.

But Achieve Pinal, a project by the Pinal Alliance for Economic Growth dedicated to helping K-12 and college students succeed in education and careers, has the benefit of a 19-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer from Casa Grande to help it connect to its target audience.


Adriana Favela, a Central Arizona College student, began her service in November, presenting workshops on applying for financial aid to high school students, as well as organizing and participating in Careertopia and other Career Ready events held on middle and high school campuses.

The FAFSA (Free Application For Student Aid) form used at the state and federal levels has been at the center of her efforts; fewer than half of Arizona 12th graders fill it out every year, but 63 percent of those who do go on to attend college.

Part of that is helping them start to map out their career goals, and she said having recently gone through her own process of choosing a career path has made it easy for her to connect with other local teens.

“I can help them out with how I came to my decision on what I want to do, so it helps me help them make lists of what their interests are. I sit down with them and say, ‘Well, what do you see yourself doing?’ It is an easy thing for me because I’m at their age level,” she said.

She also created an online catalog of scholarships for Pinal County students, some of which go unused every year due to lack of applicants, which is posted at www.achievepinal.org.

Favela came to Achieve Pinal through its partnership with Northern Arizona University’s AmeriCorps program, which aims to break down financial barriers standing between high school students and college or other post-secondary education.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March brought most of her face-to-face interactions with students to a halt, so she’s refocused some of her time toward producing videos for the website on how to complete the FAFSA form.

She considers these especially important since the number of Casa Grande Union High School students applying for aid through the FAFSA has gone down this year in the face of the pandemic and all the uncertainty it’s created for college campuses and those who might want to attend.

“My goal is actually to boost those numbers, hopefully with this video. I have been giving people my email, getting that information out there if they have any questions. We can set up a conference call, anything like that,” she said. She can be reached at adriana@pinalalliance.org or 602-753-7748.

There’s little clarity now about what college might look like in the future, Favela said, “but, in all honesty I feel like students shouldn’t give up, they should keep applying, doing what they need to do, working toward that goal if they want postsecondary success.”

Once she finishes her service at Achieve Pinal in August, she plans to return to CAC, in whatever fashion it ends up reopening, and transfer to Arizona State University to major in international relations. She sits on the City of Casa Grande’s Arts and Humanities Commission, and hopes to eventually pursue a master’s degree in art.

Judee Jackson, chairwoman of Achieve Pinal, said Favela has done great work to advance the group’s mission of making post-secondary education more accessible for students.

“We have been so fortunate to have Adriana serving students in Pinal County. She is insightful and always looking for ways to reach students. She relates well to students and she created presentations that students are engaged in,” Jackson said.

Achieve Pinal is filling two AmeriCorps positions for 2020-21, one similar to Favela’s and another to help build and recruit volunteers for Casa Grande’s AARP Experience Corps, which will pair third-graders who aren’t reading at their grade level with tutors age 50 or older who can give them extra assistance.

Anyone interested in applying for either position can contact Patti King at 520-836-6868 or pking@pinalalliance.org.