California State University, Long Beach
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Long Path to Degree Worth It

Published: March 20, 2017

Going to college for eight years didn’t deter Jaylene Westfall from doing what she likes to do.

“I’ve always liked helping people,” said the CSULB graduate who received a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2002. Helping people is exactly what she’s done throughout her career.

“In the beginning, I had a really strong pull towards women’s issues and it started with my desire to work with victims of sexual assault and translated into working in shelters with victims of domestic violence,” she said.

Born in Downey, Westfall lived up north in Atascadero for a good number of years and, at age 22, began taking night classes part-time at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. She was recently divorced with a young daughter at the time.

Eventually returning to Southern California, Westfall finished up her two-year degree at Cypress College and transferred to CSULB in 2000. While working full-time, she continued to attend school part-time and to raise her daughter.

“At that point, I did a couple of heavy-duty semesters at CSULB to finish because I wanted a break from school,” she said. “Plus, I was getting ready to have another child. I was fortunate because I had a job where they were very supportive and allowed me to have a flexible schedule.”

Support is what Westfall provides daily as the resident services supervisor at the Century Villages at Cabrillo (CVC) in Long Beach, located on the former 27-acre U.S. Naval housing site.

CVC utilizes an innovative public-private partnership model to benefit those in need and on any given night provides housing to more than 1,300 individuals. Residents—permanent and temporary—include veterans and non-veterans, families, youth and children. In addition, the CVC provides a wide range of social services to help residents regain their independence.

It’s a place she loves and has worked at for the past 15 years, during which time she has witnessed a lot of changes.

“I’ve watched it go from just a few buildings with a lot of weeds to this beautiful complex that when people come here they are amazed,” she said. “And Century is just a great company. They support personal as well as professional growth so we are very encouraged to pursue higher learning.”

Interacting every day with the residents at CVC, Westfall’s background as a sociologist serves her well.

“I had some great experiences with the sociology department at CSULB,” she said. “They did some great stuff with work groups and the classes where we would watch film and then connect the sociology piece of that to the characters in the movie, so that made it kind of fun and it’s relevant to what I do today.

“The background of sociology is focused on how social environments affect the way we see the world and the way that we think about things,” she added. “Certainly, our home environments are a social environment and so I see my education as helping me to understand where people are coming from and why they might make the choices that they make.”

The complex and diverse group of residents at CVC has Westfall dealing with an array of issues. And, no two days are the same.

She may meet one-on-one to discuss a conflict between residents or may simply provide support for an individual having difficulty paying rent when they meet with the property office. Or, it may be helping a resident complete necessary paperwork to get doctor’s approval for a service animal.

Jaylene Westfall
Jaylene Westfall

And Westfall isn’t responsible for just a handful of individuals. In the building she directly oversees, there are 80 apartments with about 300 residents. It is one of three permanent supportive housing buildings at the CVC. In 2015, there were a little more than 1,000 permanent residents housed at the Villages at Cabrillo—737 individuals in transitional programming (where they can stay for up to six months to a year) and 293 in emergency shelters (short-term housing). And, in her position, it’s possible she could interact with any of these residents at any time.

“My job is to support all of the residents who are living at the Villages at Cabrillo,” she said. “It could be a veteran, it could with someone who is homeless or someone in our after school program. It keeps things interesting.”

For her, the reward is seeing a family become stable and create relationships with each other again after they may have been in a volatile situation or worried about where they were going to sleep or feed their children.

“It’s really hard to think about things like, ‘How am I going to bond with my child or get some play time with them when you are living in your car or on the street,” she said. “However, all of those things are really important for the development of children and how they interact socially with each other.”

You could say that Westfall is a stabilizing influence.

“There’s lot of intensity in working with families in crisis,” she said. “I really enjoy helping individuals and families who are in the process of becoming stable and finding a place where they can really grow and strengthen their family unit.

“It feels good watching them transition to a place where the family can really settle in, get their kids enrolled into school or child care and can form friendships because they are not moving around all the time,” she added. “We see drastic changes in the adults and children who bond with other individuals and are able to develop relationships that create social stability. That’s one of the great things about my job.”