At the beginning of her career, Pat Eldridge started off as a health clerk before transitioning into her current job as a school/community and homeless liaison for the Santa Clara Unified School District. Having served homeless students for the last 20 years, Eldridge was this year’s recipient of the district’s award for the Classified Employee of the Year. She was honored at the May 25 district employee tea.
“It was a total shock for me to win this,” Eldridge says. “The most basic part of my job is vetting where students live, signing students up for free or reduced lunches, and getting students school supplies and backpacks. I also have a grant from the Mission City Community Fund where I can help students with purchasing clothing.”
Eldridge points out that homelessness does not refer only to those who live on the streets. Being homeless, by her definition, includes people living in shelters, in cars or RVs, in motels and in transitional housing. Eldridge also mentions families who are living doubled up. Perhaps they have lost their homes because they couldn’t pay rent and now they must live with relatives.
“When you enroll in school, you need to show three or four kinds of proof of where you live; obviously these people don’t often have that,” Eldridge says. “So I talk to them and determine their situation, and then I call the school and tell them I’ve talked to them, and I would ask the school to enroll them. I don’t have a crystal ball. People have lied to me. But there’s a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Act-it’s part of No Child Left Behind, I believe. The law says that if a family says they are homeless, you have to enroll them in a school immediately with or without documentation. I work closely with the district nurse to make sure these students get immunized so they can get in school quickly.”
A graduate of Newark State College, Eldridge goes the extra mile to help students plan for their future.
“Recently I wrote a letter of recommendation for a female student who got a full scholarship to a four-year college; I’m pleased and proud this young lady got to this point because she grew up with many challenges around her,” Eldridge says. “There’s another student I’ve worked with who was on his own when he was 18, and possibly even younger. He lost many things that are important to have, such as his social security card. I wrote to his native country to get his original birth certificate and a new social security card. Now, he has a job at a warehouse. He comes by to visit me and gives good hugs. I’ve had former students come to me to tell me they’re doing okay now, that they have a job.”
Eldridge adds that she is the vice president and jobs steward of the California School Employees Association (CSEA) at the Santa Clara Unified School District. This year, she also received CSEA’s Member Service Award, five of which are given each year across the state.