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Easing the burden

DACC Avanza program helps students find success

For years Lorena Torres-Rios has worked hard to provide a life for her and her children. Torres-Rios, a single mother of two, didn’t finish high school. She worked for many years as a small business owner, cleaning houses in Las Cruces. But in 2018, things changed and for the better. Rios decided to give college a try. 

She enrolled at Doña Ana Community College to earn her GED certificate, but didn’t want to stop there. As a single parent who worked full-time, she needed a little extra help – something she found in the DACC Avanza program. Torres-Rios is on track to graduate in 2023 with a degree. 

Torres-Rios is just one of so many students the Avanza program was created to help. Avanza, which is Spanish for advance, began in southern Doña Ana County thanks to a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Avanza began assisting low-income students to succeed in college. Four years later in 2022, the program has expanded. It serves the needs of all DACC students at every campus and center, helping them with extra support to stay in school. 

Avanza helps students, especially those with families, with assistance that goes beyond college. This includes mentoring, career exploration, connection to community resources and social service organizations, food pantries, childcare resources and free iPads to incoming students. The goal is to help students lift their outside worries to focus more on school. 

Torres-Rios says she had been out of school for so long that reintegrating herself with modern technology at first was difficult. The support she received from DACC, she says, made things easier to manage due to “the opportunities available to non-traditional students like myself, the variety of programs and the option to take online courses that work around students’ work and family schedules.”

Gina Reyes is the director of the Avanza program, which has four student success advocates at all campuses who connect students to the tools they need to be successful. Reyes says these wrap-around services Avanza provides equates to higher success rates in college.

“For example, if a student is failing a class, our initial instinct would be to send them to the tutoring center, not understanding the material may not be the reason alone for failing,” Reyes says. “There may be underlying personal needs such as mental health, family life or food insecurities that the tutoring center alone might not recognize.” 

Reyes says that’s where advocates step in to connect the student to resources and services that will ease outside stressors. Some of DACC’s advocates have worked in nonprofit sectors like child advocacy and mental health services. She says that experience helps the advocates put themselves in the students’ shoes and truly identify barriers they may be facing. 

Overcoming those barriers has led Torres-Rios on the path to receiving her associate degree in fall 2023 in health information technology. In addition, Torres-Rios earned two certificates as a medical administrative assistant and medical billing. With a 3.9 GPA, she’s also a Crimson Scholar, a student recognized for exceptional academic achievement. It’s been the help she received from Avanza that Torres-Rios credits for helping her along the way. 

“I want to encourage those who are planning to attend college, or may even feel hesitant to attend, to push through any obstacles,” Torres-Rios says. “I’m not saying it will always be easy, but if you set your mind to it and reach out for help when you need it like I did, you will be able to accomplish your career goals.” 

For more information on DACC’s Avanza program, visit