02/20/2013 05:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Mother and Daughter's Road to a More Environmentally Friendly Path

There are not, generally speaking, a lot of silver linings to having your daughter hit by a drunk driver.

But if Danielle Beckman's daughter Devan hadn't been in this accident on her 18th birthday, doctors would not have taken a closer look at Devan's persistent neck pain. Had they not looked, the doctors would not have discovered - and successfully treated - a tumor that proved to be a rare form of cancer.

And if mother and daughter had not gone through this ordeal, Danielle Beckman might not have begun asking questions about what made her daughter sick in the first place and started on a new path that would change her life.

"My daughter had been exposed to a high level of radiation. The doctors compared her cancer to the kinds of cancer experienced by the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in the Ukraine," says Danielle. "How does something like this happen and how do we prevent it from happening again?"


Danielle's search for answers led her to Santa Monica College (SMC) and, through the JVSLA WorkSource Center which partners with SMC on the college's Recycling and Resource Management (RRM) Certification Program. Through the certificate process, students learn all about the terminology, principles and applications of recycling and resource management. As JVSLA Sustainable Resource Coordinator Valerie Cruts puts it, this program is creating a legion of green pioneers.

Participants who are trained in recycling and resource management are employable in numerous fields from government agencies, grocery stories and healthcare to recycling companies, retail business and waste hauling. JVS has enrolled 195 participants in the program since its inception.

"We are changing the paradigm of how people think," says Cruts. "Instead of throwing something into a waste bin, people can recycle or reuse it. That's a habit. We're helping people become more aware. Now all we have to do is put that awareness into action and apply it to a city, a county and a business."

Part of the RRM curriculum requires students to find an internship that will assist them to put what they have learned into practice. For her internship, Danielle, who had already begun implementing sustainable procedures in her neighborhood, has been working with municipal officials in Culver City to assist with the implementation of zero-wasting events and festivals.

Danielle aced her 12-unit RRM certification, earning a 4.0 grade point average, and now she's pursuing the 18-unit state certification and, ultimately, an Associate Science (AS) degree at Santa Monica College. Not bad for a 42-year-old single mother of two with a GED who had previously worked exclusively in the entertainment industry.

"Danielle was a great candidate," says Cruts. "I was intrigued by her story of being a single mother looking for a career path that she could be passionate about and make a real difference, versus just getting a job to get by and feed her family."

"Valerie and JVS made me approach and try out things I would never have done before," says a grateful Danielle. "Without the confidence and support that they continuously gave me, things would have turned out differently," she says. "I would love for other people to know that the opportunity is there, the support is there."

And the best news of all? Devan is cancer free and back in school, attending Santa Monica College with her mother.

"We're starting this whole educational journey together," says Danielle.