by Michelle Griego and Jennifer Mistrot

(KPIX 5) — Odalis Millan‘s sophomore year at Sonoma State University began as the trip of a lifetime, as she left home to study abroad in Spain. Then COVID-19 hit and the country went into quarantine. The study abroad program shut down and Millan, along with her classmates, frantically made plans to get back to the United States.

“We saw [the pandemic coverage] on the news, everything that was going on,” recalled Millan. “[And we were like] Oh my God! Like we gotta go! We gotta pack. All my friends that were with me were like calling their parents and I wasn’t really calling anyone.”

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

Millan had no one to call because she faces an obstacle most of her classmates will never have to worry about. Millan is a foster child, so college housing is key to her survival and her shelter. When she made it back to the Bay Area a one-night stay in a hotel room located near the airport provided a small reprieve but then she had nowhere to go. So she emailed her school ” practically begging them to house [me] for quarantine.”

Sonoma State agreed but the housing would be pricey – $1,000 for two weeks on campus – a daunting figure that left Millan feeling defeated.

“A lot of [my fellow students] couldn’t afford that,” explained Millan. “I couldn’t afford that after spending $1,000 on flights [home].”

So Millan called Students Rising Above. The non-profit found a sponsor for her stay at Sonoma State. And when that time was up, her SRA advisor Veli Waller took Millan into her own home until she could secure permanent housing.

“She fit right into my family,” said Waller, SRA’s Senior Manager of College Success. “She played board games with my family. We watched TV together.

All the things that people do together during shelter-in-place.”

Millan now rents a room in a home near Waller as both student and advisor want to remain close during these uncertain times. Waller says she is proud of Millan’s resiliency.

“Odalis can accomplish anything,“ declared Waller. “When she believes in something she will go after it.”

And now with the school year and Spain behind her, Millan says her future outlook is simple.

“Focus in on yourself,” advised Millan. “Learn how to cope. Learn how to feel your emotions. Without holding back.”


Michelle Griego