Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a new, occasional series profiling residents from the Lower Columbia River region who have interesting stories to tell.
Earning a college degree is already difficult, but reaching that milestone is even harder when your mother dies when you’re a 9 years old and your father is an absent meth addict.
Despite these adversities, Isobella Matzen earned her associate’s degree from LCC last summer and is studying human development at Washington State University Vancouver.
“I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” the first-generation college student said. “I’m so excited to get out (into the workforce) and start my career and build my life up.”
When Matzen was growing up in Long Beach, her father owned a tourist T-shirt shop, then an antique store. But after her mother’s death from cancer, Matzen noticed something wrong: Her father became distant and was “never around anymore,” leaving Matzen and her older brother alone most of the time.
“It was hard because I felt really alone, and things were starting to crumble around us,” she said. “We’re about to lose our house, the childhood home that I grew up in. It was then that I was like, ‘I want to go to college and I want better than this. This can’t be it for me.’ ”
While she was still at Ilwaco High School, Matzen said she received a scholarship that would give her a free ride to any four-year state university in Washington. But in her senior year, it was invalidated because her father didn’t file his taxes that year — a condition for the scholarship.
Matzen still found some financial breathing room after she applied to another scholarship, this time to LCC. In her second financial aid effort, things clicked into place.
“(LCC) gave me right around six grand, and that was enough for me to come here and do what I could do,” she said.
When she arrived in Longview, Matzen lived with her grandparents for the first year and a half, but she left after frequently butting heads with her grandma.
“My grandma and I are both very stubborn and hard-headed people; We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything,” she said. “Sometimes, the way we would talk to one another wasn’t healthy. So I just made the decision that it was time to leave.”
Matzen then roomed with a co-worker, and she later moved in with an old high school friend. Today, she lives with her boyfriend in Kelso.
During her collegiate experience, Matzen said she and her father started drifting further apart, to the point where she said they haven’t connected in a long time.
“When I first moved here, I was in contact with (my dad), at least every week I called,” he said. “But then, his (phone) numbers started switching, and every time I called him, the phone would be shut off. I’d drive down there and I couldn’t find him. It’s just gotten to the point where I’ve just distanced myself because it’s super-stressful for me.”
Matzen has remained in touch with her grandparents.
“I know she’s proud of what I’m doing, and it is nice to be able to have somebody … because she has an idea of what I’ve went through,” she said of her grandma.
She said her post-collegiate goal is to become an elementary school counselor.
According to Matzen, she didn’t even realize she had that interest until she began working in LCC’s Early Learning Center, a childcare facility for the school’s students, faculty and other community members.
“I really liked watching how children’s brains work and develop,” she said. “I just found I have a passion for working with children.”
Matzen said she hopes to work with Longview-area kids.
“I know it has its bad parts, but I really want to try and bring positive things to this community,” she said. “I’ve fallen in love with it.”
Matzen said she hopes her mother is proud of her.
“She’s what I’m doing this for. She’s always in the back of my mind.”