[SPOKANE, Wash.] Spokane resident Paige Damaskos was struggling. The single mother was attending an intensive college program that left her little time to spend with her twin boys, who were eight years old. She only saw them for three hours a day.
Damaskos, 33, and her boys also had medical issues, but the rigid school schedule made it difficult to go to doctor’s appointments. She said that she put in disability paperwork, but the school didn’t accept it. Due to all of her responsibilities, Damaskos was falling behind. Eventually, she dropped out.
“I wasn’t able to maintain the schedule that they were demanding. It just didn’t work for my life,” she said. “I’m trying to build up my life. It was very disappointing that it ended up that way.”
Damaskos has had a difficult journey. She experienced childhood trauma that left her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and frequent panic attacks. To deal with this, she self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. She was also homeless for six months. In 2020, Damaskos went to a six-month treatment center for behavioral modification. Afterward, she and her sons lived at the Oxford House for families in recovery.
While staying there, Damaskos signed up for the Essential Skills program through The ZONE, a nonprofit that partners with Northeast Spokane residents, schools and community organizations to help families in need. The Essential Skills program – which is a six-week, four-hour a day program facilitated by The ZONE and Gonzaga University – is geared toward women going back to school or work. It teaches them how to craft résumés and cover letters, budgeting and figuring out a career. It was perfect for Damaskos.
“The Essential Skills class sparked my sense of ‘Hey, I can do this,’” Damaskos said.
Spokane Community College is one of The ZONE’s partners. SCC staff members do outreach at some workshops and events to educate participants on financial aid, scholarships and childcare. For last summer’s Essential Skills program, 18 participants toured the SCC campus. It’s a model that The ZONE hopes to use for next summer’s program.
“We wanted (SCC) to feel like a familiar space,” said The ZONE’s director, Jene Ray. “We want to break down barriers and the assumptions that adults have about why they can’t go back to school. There’s always a handful of them that end up at SCC.”
“We showed them that we’re here for them, and we’re friendly faces who will help them,” said Nicci Gooch, SCC’s campus visit supervisor.
It was through that Essential Skills course that Damaskos saw her future change. Computing for All taught participants how to create their own websites through WIX, a web hosting organization.
“It was so cool to see a website that makes websites,” Damaskos said. “I was so fascinated with that and that I could do that.”
After the training, Damaskos decided to attend SCC for software development. She started classes for an Associates of Science degree last month. She is currently getting financial assistance through the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) federal program, provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
“Knowing my ability and passion for learning, I’m trying not to be scared,” she said. “This is important to me.”
The ZoNe and SCC are in talks to partner on more programs. Betty J. Craipo, a customer service specialist at SCC, said that it’s important for organizations to partner together to have a broader community impact.
“Current and potential students need community-minded organizations to be in Spokane, and SCC will continue to be one of these,” she said. “The women from Essential Skills who visited our campus this summer now realize that there is a clear way through whatever barrier they are experiencing, and SCC is one of many anchor stakeholders in Spokane to help remove those barriers.”
Through financial assistance, Damaskos and her sons now live in a two-bedroom apartment. She can get medical assistance for all of them as well as attend classes.
“I thought, ‘How do I life, and how do I show these two little boys how to do it,’” she said. “But if you make mistakes and have mental health issues, there is still hope. If you keep fighting, at the end of the day, it will come together like a puzzle.”
For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Communications Director Jeff Bunch at Jeff.Bunch@ccs.spokane.edu.
CCS provides education and services in a six-county region of Eastern Washington, operates Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane Community College and is the largest provider of Head Start and Early Childhood Education in the region. Each year, nearly 30,000 people – from infants to senior citizens – are provided educational services by CCS.