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Transfer student sets sights on law career following spinal cord injury

Closeup of Climaco Abarca
Combined with financial aid, Abarca said what made his college dreams possible is the opportunity to save up funds to attend school via the Washington State ABLE Savings Plan.

When Climaco Abarca was 15 years old, he lost the ability to walk following a paralyzing diving accident. While the accident changed the course of the Washington State University Tri-Cities junior’s life, it did not stop him from going to college and helping others in similar circumstances.

“Everyone would struggle with waking up one day and not being able to walk,” he said. “It is incredibly hard and there are many people that don’t think they could do it, but at the end of the day, you have to live and overcome. I have learned to live with my disability, and I don’t let it affect me. I have strong family support that is what has kept me motivated. I want to set a good example for them.”

Combined with financial aid, Abarca said what made his college dreams possible is the opportunity to save up funds to attend school via the Washington State ABLE Savings Plan. Without the program, he said his options for remaining on vital programs like social security and other social support programs would be limited due to the savings cap for those programs, especially while he was struggling with repeated surgeries that prevented him from earning a regular income.

“Without ABLE, I was only allowed to have less than $2,000 in my bank account,” he said. “But with the program, you can save up more funds. It takes money you earn from your pay stubs every month and then you can use it for large purchases like school and other things. Without that program, I would never have been able to save up enough for school.”

Law, Abarca discovered with the help of mentorship through school, is a path he could do from a wheelchair that would allow him to make a positive impact on his community. Specifically, he is interested in going into injury or immigration law, given his family’s background immigrating from Mexico.

When looking for the right bachelor’s program that would pair well with his future career in law, he found psychology to be a great option. He began his studies at Columbia Basin College before transferring to Washington State University Tri-Cities

His road to earning his bachelor’s degree has been riddled with surgeries needed to help correct some back issues while attending WSU Tri-Cities. And while he has had to take several leaves of absence from his education in recent years, he is excited to be back in school this semester to continue with his education – even while the return has been a bit challenging.

Climaco Abarca

“Being out of school for those many months and then returning to take classes has been challenging – I won’t lie about that,” he said. “You realize you have lost some of those skills you had when you were regularly taking classes. But honestly, because of the support and with the help of tutoring, I’m getting back to earning those grades I was used to earning.”

Abarca has sought the help of WSU Tri-Cities TRIO Student Success Programs, which provides tutoring support, mentorship, help with financial aid and more for students who are low-income, first-generation and/or have a documented disability. Particularly, he said, being paired with a supplemental instructor for some of his classes has been crucial to his success.

“I came back to school thinking I would be where I was when I left school, but had a rude awaking about that,” he said. “Through tutoring with TRIO, and specifically working with a supplemental instructor, it has been wonderful.”

Combined with going to school, Abarca strives to have an active role in giving back to his community. He serves on the home owner’s association board of the Tierra Vida Community in Pasco, as well as working as a coronavirus investigator contract tracer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After graduating from WSU Tri-Cities in a few semesters, he hopes to still remain local for the law school program at Gonzaga University.

“I am all about community and serving the people locally,” he said. “This is a place I call my home and I have an opportunity to help people in the community I serve. I just want to make a difference and create opportunities. If I can help people in any way, I will.”

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