NOVA Alumna, Naraya Omar Talks Winning Generation Hope Grant and Her College Experience

February 15, 2022

Northern Virginia Community College alum, Naraya Omar is part of a group of 12 recipients of a grant from Generation Hope, a nonprofit that provides parenting students with mentoring and financial/childcare assistance so they can graduate college.

Generation Hope has invested $30K in its “Our Campus, Our Voice” challenge to put resources and decision making back in the hands of the student-parent participants to improve their college experience. Each winner will complete a project, like a campus initiative to increase students’ knowledge about supplemental food programs like SNAP or organizing focus groups on campus to research the needs of student parents on campus.

Naraya is a young mom who is committed to making the NOVA college experience even better for all young parents. She will be promoting apparel for awareness so that the voice of parent students becomes even more prominent. After graduating from NOVA, Naraya alongside her husband Ariel Ventura-Lazo who also attended NOVA now both are continuing their studies at George Mason University. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:

I am a first-generation American, and the first in my family to graduate from college. I went to NOVA for four years as a part-time student, as I was also a mom. I am a single mother of two. My son is 11 and my daughter is five.

I lost my mom when I was 15 years old and my father a month before my high school graduation, so going to college was little challenging as I didn’t have family to support me and my children. I completed school for my children. I want to tell them, no matter what obstacles come in life, you can do what you want and succeed.

I graduated from NOVA with three certificates and my associates degree in early childhood education. Then I transferred to George Mason and am pursuing the same route of early childhood education. I currently work for Fairfax County’s Office for Children School Age Child Care (SACC).

During COVID, my work was on pause for six months, and when we came back – we weren’t able to have as many children as usual. Only about half could come back. It was hard for the children as they had to adapt to many changing environments that they may have not been used to. Once SACC re-opened full time, my job was to keep them comfortable safe and as engaged as they can be.

There’s a quote that I just recently found, and I completely love it. ’The only way to get through something is through it.’ In order for students to accomplish whatever goals they want; they have to get through it. No matter what life throws you, you have to just keep getting through it and trying.

What brought you to NOVA?

I graduated from Bryant Alternative FCPS High School in Alexandria and Generation Hope was a big part of my success. I was a big fan of Generation Hope, and I was reading the Generation Hope CEO Nicole Lynn Lewis’s first novel, ‘Glori’, as a requirement for my high school English class.

I decided to apply. I had a friend that applied, and she had gotten in. She motivated me to apply and I got in. I had no clue what it was like to go to college, as I am a first-generation college student. Even my brothers did not know what it meant to go to college. I was assigned a mentor named Tracy who happened to work at NOVA at the time. Through my mentor and Generation Hope, they helped with curriculum and everything that went with it.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA (i.e. professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met)

I appreciated the size of the classes in early childhood ed. It was family oriented. I just felt comfortable walking those hallways and being alongside people like me.

I didn’t really see a lot of student parents at the time when I was there. This is where my project comes into play. With Generation Hope, the organization had given me a voice to speak up and now they are giving me an opportunity to give back. I am an alumna now with the program, and they are still allowing me to shine as much as I can. I want to do what I can to help out students that are in my shoes. I want to help them feel comfortable and shine as well.

My project is to create awareness apparel such as sweatshirts and beanies for NVCC students for them to stand out and represent all student parents on college campus and in the surrounding area. With the grant, I am now working on the design. The purpose of my project is to connect student parents, so they don’t feel isolated or alienated. I want them to feel like they are not the only ones and to be proud of themselves.

In college, I would only find parents if I talked to them, and we found that commonality. I want student parents to feel proud. Like it should be a club – like in some way or form, they are in a club. College is hard for everyone, but when you’re a student parent, it is even harder. I want student parents to say, ‘this is my hoodie. I wear this because I am part of club.”Just like when you are part of a club and feel like you’re a part of a family or larger community, I want to create that sense of unity at NOVA. It’s a seed that I’m trying to plant. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?

I am not going to lie; it’s going to be hard. I would tell them, “The only way through something, is through it. It’s going to be hard, but the accomplishment is going to be so rewarding for you and your children. Don’t be shy to ask questions. Don’t feel isolated. You’re a student just like everyone else.”

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