(From L to R) Robert D. Taylor, chair of the CSUN Foundation Board; Paige Hajiloo, president of Associated Students; Debra L. Hammond, executive director, University Student Union; Daniel Lopez and Jasmin Zesati, vice chair and chair, USU Board of Directors; donors Debbie and Milt Valera; Erika D. Beck, CSUN president; Pilar Schiavo, Assemblywoman, District 40; donors Barbara and Rick Levy; William Watkins, vice president, Student Affairs and dean of students; Susana Ziarati, CSUN Foundation Board; and Nichole Ipach, vice president, University Relations and Advancement; at the renovation celebration for The Valera NEST (Nurturing Environment for Students to Thrive) on Friday, May 3, 2024. (Ringo Chiu / CSUN)

(From L to R) Pilar Schiavo, Assemblywoman, District 40, presents a check to Erika D. Beck, CSUN president; Jasmin Zesati, chair, USU Board of Directors; Daniel Lopez, vice chair, USU Board of Directors; and Robert D. Taylor, chair of the CSUN Foundation Board, during The Valera NEST renovation ceremony at the USU Grand Salon at California State University, Northridge in Los Angeles, California, Friday, May 3, 2024. (Ringo Chiu / CSUN)

CSUN students soon will have a single campus location where they can access help with food or housing, emergency funds and other basic needs — all the things they need so they can focus on their goals and thrive. 

The Valera NEST (“Nurturing Environment for Students to Thrive”) is scheduled to open its doors in fall 2025. The centralized resource for CSUN’s basic needs programs and services will be located in a renovated space in the University Student Union — providing students in need of necessities with the stability and support they need to thrive in the classroom. 

“By investing in The Valera NEST, we are investing in our students where they are now, and in their future success as the leaders, innovators and changemakers of our shared future,” said CSUN President Erika D. Beck. 

On May 3, CSUN ceremonially broke ground on this new space and celebrated donors and other supporters who stepped up to make this important project happen. 

Honorees included:

  • Milt Valera ’68 (Journalism), Hon.D. ’23 and Debbie Valera. The Valera NEST is named in recognition of the couple’s generous gift for the project.
  • Barbara ’74 (English) and Rick Levy ’74 (Political Science). In recognition of the Levys’ impactful philanthropic support, The Valera NEST community kitchen will be named in memory of Ila Levy, mother and mother-in-law of Rick and Barbara Levy, respectively.
  • Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo (D-Chatsworth), who helped secure $6 million in the California state budget for the $20.7 million project. 

CSUN’s University Student Union also contributed reserve funds to help realize the project. The Valera NEST is the vision of USU Executive Director Debra L. Hammond, who is retiring at the end of 2024 after more than 30 years at CSUN. 

While the university already offers a variety of support services — the CSUN Food Pantry, Cal Fresh Outreach/Healthy Living, Matty’s Closet, Basic Needs Care Coordinators, financial assistance such as the MataCare Fund and more — The Valera NEST will centralize all these student resources in one attractive and very accessible location. 

Such a facility is the first of its kind in the California State University system, said William Watkins ’74, vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students.

The new space will be located in the University Student Union (USU), in an area previously occupied by Wells Fargo Bank and the Pub Sports Grill. The renovation will start this month and is scheduled to be completed by fall 2025. It’s at a busy campus crossroads, not far from the popular Student Recreation Center.

Having a central access point for students eliminates the need to walk from building to building on the sprawling campus to access vital services — a process that can be daunting and emotionally taxing. 

“The Valera NEST is not just a building, it is a beacon of hope and a commitment,” Schiavo said. “It’s a clear … declaration of our collective dedication to ensuring that every student has the resources they need to succeed, without the burden of external burdens.”

Milt Valera spoke poetically about The Valera NEST, which he called a place for all things nourishing and nurturing. 

“When we learned recently that the original name of the Basic Needs Suite was being changed to Valera NEST, we felt an immediate sense of added responsibility and even a little bit of pressure,” he said. “A Nurturing Environment for Students to Thrive — NEST — is not a place or a commitment to be taken lightly.”

Barbara Levy discussed the meaning behind the kitchen’s name and its namesake, her mother-in-law, Ila Levy, a first-generation American who was a nurturing force in her community and believed in the power of higher education. Barbara Levy said she envisioned The Valera NEST as a home away from home for students. 

“We knew this was the best way for us to give back to this university,” she said. “We know from our own experiences how difficult it can be, and also what an amazing steppingstone Cal State Northridge is to students. You can do anything from here.”

Hammond thanked by name many of the campus and community partners who helped bring the project to life — and, especially, one very important group. 

“The people I want to thank most of all is our students, because they are the inspiration behind this,” she said. “They make all this happen for us. And it’s really important that we celebrate them at all times.”

USU Board of Directors Chair Jasmin Zesati and Vice Chair Daniel Lopez spoke of the difference CSUN’s resources can make in students’ lives, such as monthly food benefits and Matty’s Closet clothes for conferences or other professional opportunities. The new location in the heart of the USU will help let students know that CSUN has numerous resources to help them, Zesati said. 

“Reaching out to students and letting them know that we are here to support them is so special and so powerful,” she said. “I really love being a part of this, and I’m excited to see it in the future.”


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