Josephine Chavez Carr, 46, still can’t believe she graduated from College of the Canyons with an associate’s degree in paralegal studies on June 3.
“It feels amazing,” said Chavez Carr, who will continue taking business classes at the college in the fall. “It’s an opportunity I wasn’t sure would happen. Now I feel that I can give back in so many ways.”
The first-generation college student plans to use her paralegal and business background to open a nonprofit center to help domestic violence victims. Her reason for doing so is personal.
On July 8, 1999, a barefoot Chavez Carr fled her Van Nuys apartment with her 2-year-old son, who was wearing only a diaper at the time.
While it wasn’t the first time Chavez Carr had endured domestic violence at the hands of her partner, it was the first time she hadn’t felt scared to run.
“I don’t know what happened, but something changed,” recalled Chavez Carr. “I can remember the moment that my brain said, ‘Why are you sitting here? You have to get out of here. Leave everything behind. Just grab your son and run.’”
After the mother and son were transported to a nearby hospital for their injuries, Chavez Carr decided to regain control of her life with the help of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART).
The agency helped her navigate the California court system and file a restraining order against her batterer, who was later imprisoned under the state’s three-strikes law.
Her experience as a domestic violence victim inspired her to become a domestic violence advocate.
“I felt truly empowered to the point where I wanted to give back,” said Chavez Carr, who went on to work with DART for 17 years.
In 2018, Chavez Carr decided to pursue her goal of opening her own nonprofit center in the Antelope Valley, where she currently resides.
But first, the mother of six would have to finish high school.
Chavez Carr had dropped out of high school at the insistence of her partner when she was 18 years old.
“He asked me to because ‘real women work and bring home a paycheck,’” said Chavez Carr, who has since remarried. “I didn’t know how to say no to him. He had so much control.”
Not only did Chavez Carr go back to school to earn her high school degree, but she also started taking paralegal classes at COC at the same time.
“I just kept getting more and more motivated to finish,” said Chavez Carr, who earned her high school diploma in 2019.
“When I finished my first semester, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I finished this one. Let me enroll right away because I don’t want to stop’” said Chavez Carr. “I remember walking out of the classroom after the last final taking a picture and texting it to my family and saying, ‘I did it!’”
Initially unaware about the financial aid options that were available to her, Chavez Carr learned about the Board of Governors fee waiver (now known as the California College Promise Grant) and scholarships she could apply for on the college’s website.
“I didn’t know all of this existed,” said Chavez Carr. “Just being able to navigate the COC website, meet with counselors and get the support I need from professors has been amazing. I just want everyone to go to COC.”
Chavez Carr met with Liz Shaker, a COC counselor who focuses on guiding students through the college’s Pathway to Law School.
“She showed me all the options I had,” said Chavez Carr, who is also graduating with a certificate of achievement from the college’s Cal Law Scholar program. “It made a big difference being able to meet with someone that has paralegal studies as their specialty.”
Shaker was immediately impressed with Chavez Carr’s drive and determination.
“She is one of the most hard-working, goal-oriented, motivated and resilient students I know,” said Shaker. “She is an inspiration to her children, her peers and myself. I am so excited for Josephine’s next steps to pursue developing her business plan for her nonprofit organization to continue her advocacy work. I am confident Josephine will continue to succeed and make a difference in her community.”
Chavez Carr tries not to dwell too much on the past and what she could have done differently.
“I know that everyone has to experience their own experience,” said Chavez Carr. “I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
Chavez Carr hopes her experience helps other non-traditional students who are thinking about going back to school to finish their studies.
“I went back and it took me a long time before I went back, but you can do it,” said Chavez Carr. “It’s never too late.”