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Long road leads to success for Cordova

Cynthia Cordova went back to school to earn her GED, and later her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, and started work this month with Rock-Nobles Community Corrections. She also works as part-time victim’s advocate at the Southwest Crisis Center. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Cynthia Cordova still recalls the first time she saw snow.

It was 1996, and she was the 16-year-old daughter of a migrant worker from Texas who, after years of shuttling seasonally between there and the Del Monte plant in Sleepy Eye, finally decided to stay put.

Nearly two decades later, Cordova relishes spring, summer and autumn in the North Star State, but along with many other Minnesotans, has had her fill of winter — and snow.

However, frosty white flakes are a welcome cover for the brown ground in late fall, and like new-fallen snow, Cordova, has made a fresh, clean start.

Just two weeks ago, Cordova began work as a half-time corrections agent with Rock-Nobles Community Corrections. She continues to be a part-time victim’s advocate at the Southwest Crisis Center, where she has worked for the past two years.

Cordova’s journey to this status has been neither fast nor easy, but her native intelligence, diligence and persistence have helped her achieve a permanent foothold as a professional who can help guide and encourage others.

“I dropped out of school when I was 17, then got married and had my first child at 18,” shares Cordova, now an articulate, energetic 34-year-old woman.

“I worked at Swift (now JBS) on the kill floor for a year, then my husband and I left the area for about a year, and when we moved back to Worthington I started working there again until I became pregnant — I quit because I couldn’t take the smell.”

The kill floor is “about as tough as it gets,” attested Cordova.

“It was very hard, hard work, and I respect the people who do it.”

A procession of jobs in various factories and production facilities followed, and Cordova (whose first marriage ended in divorce after seven years) was working at Toro in Windom when she had her epiphany: she wanted a better life for herself and her children.

“I decided I didn’t want to work at a factory for 30 years when, as a U.S. citizen, I had the opportunity to do something more for myself and could obtain financial aid for education,” said Cordova. “And I wanted to be a good role model and a better provider for my kids.”

So despite the extra challenges of needing to support and care for a young family, Cordova earned her GED in 2001, then an associate of arts degree at Minnesota West, and in December 2013, she graduated from Southwest State University in Marshall with a bachelor’s degree in justice administration.

“It was hard having children and going back to school, and it took me longer than I’d planned,” admitted Cordova. “When I finished at Minnesota West, I decided I wanted to go into probation.”

Cordova praises her then-full-time employer, Southwest Crisis Center, and her partner of eight years, Christian Banegas, for their understanding, assistance and support as she balanced classes, homework, household duties, her job and a career-related internship during those years.

The insight Cordova gained from doing so many things “the hard way” now serves her well and gives her credibility in her chosen profession.

“I wanted to go into probation work because I wanted to help people and assist them in getting on the right path,” said Cordova. “I have the ability to tell them, ‘You made a mistake, now let’s see what you can do to correct it,’ but also the ability to be stern and say, ‘OK, you’re not following through, so there will be consequences.’

“And I’ve always wanted to work with juveniles, so I’m really fortunate to be able to do that,” she added. “If you can keep them from going the wrong way when they’re younger, get that intervention to them at a younger age, you can keep them out of the criminal justice system when they’re adults — and that’s what really interested me.”

Cordova says she is constantly reminding her own children — six total, ranging in age from 6 to 15, including the two from her first marriage, two stepchildren and two with Banegas — of the importance of finishing high school and continuing their educations before taking on more of life’s responsibilities.

“I tell my kids to go to school when you’re younger, when you aren’t a parent and don’t have to work,” advised Cordova. “When I was going to college, I was also a parent so my priority was working to have food on the table for the kids, and I couldn’t stay for extra-curricular activities because I had to either go home and take care of children or go to work.

“If you go to school when you are young, you can have the full experience, and I hope they get that.”

Cordova’s language skills — she is completely fluent in English and Spanish—give her an advantage in the workplace.

“It (being bilingual) really helps, and I’m glad it is a benefit in my position,” said Cordova. “I’m very, very fortunate to have gotten a job in my field here in Worthington. I tell my kids that it’s helpful to be bilingual, and I speak Spanish to them at home, but they understand it much better than they speak it.”

One of the biggest hurdles Cordova had to cross en route to becoming a corrections agent was completing the 400 hours of required internship time at a probation facility/agency. 

She met the requirement as an intern in Cottonwood County, under the supervision of senior corrections agent Jenny Quade.

“I feel really proud of myself for having completed my degree and internship,” Cordova said. “Having my family and partner support me, especially when I had my night classes, helped me tremendously.

“I couldn’t have done it by myself, or if I had, it would have been harder and taken longer.”

Her partner works as a welder at Toro in Windom, and she credits him for being supportive, reliable, loving and a solid father throughout her educational quest.

“There were times when I said, ‘I want to quit,’ and he said, ‘No, you’re almost done, keep going,’” she related. “He was very supportive.”

Given her dual roles as a corrections agent and victim’s advocate, Cordova has plenty of advice to share — not only with her clients but also with her children.

“As parents, we sometimes try to fix everything for our kids, but I try to give them advice rather than do it all for them,” she said. “I want to help them — and my clients — get on the right path and find solutions.

“It’s important to encourage them (especially juveniles) to complete their education, seek better opportunities for themselves and make good choices.”