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Helping Kids Dream Big—and Go to College

A March 21 wine and appetizer benefit at Fatty's will ensure that underserved high school students stay ahead of the game and attend four-year colleges.

Monique Hyman and Kathleen Parent are on a mission. They want every high school student to know that college—a four-year college—is an option.

Five years ago, Hyman, a college instructor, and Parent, a high school teacher, co-founded the nonprofit College Access Plan. Based at John Muir High School in Pasadena, the organization helps underserved high school students get accepted to four-year colleges they might not have otherwise considered. Once there, CAP helps students succeed.

“The reason a lot of students don’t consider college is that they don’t know how to get there,” says Hyman. “We go into the classrooms, stand in front of the students, and say, ‘You can go to college, and here’s what you should be doing to get there.’”

The tools in CAP’s college prep arsenal? One-on-one advisement, mentoring and topic-specific workshops, such as SAT prep or help with financial aid forms.

Accessibility and flexibility are also key. According to Hyman, CAP has a higher rate of student involvement than many college prep programs because kids don’t need to join a program or commit to a certain number of hours, which is often impossible for CAP’s target demographic because of job pressures or family responsibilities. Instead, kids “drop in at lunch or stop in after school,” notes the educator, adding that even after students have graduated and gone off to college, they come back during breaks for help with filling out federal student aid forms. “They always know where to find us,” says Hyman.

Long-Term Presence

The fact that CAP has lasted so long and is there for the long haul is a critical component of the program’s success because it inspires trust in the students it serves, says Hyman. When she and Parent first started out, “we envisioned the program all over the place,” recalls Hyman.  They soon realized, however, that instead of quickly expanding to multiple schools, it was more important to “deepen our ability to reach [students] by becoming more and more entrenched in the school.” Adds Hyman: “Now we serve the community really well.”

Partnering with Community Organizations

That’s not to say that CAP hasn’t expanded. The organization recently started working with Pasadena’s Blair High School. However, as school resources dwindle, Hyman says a key component of expanding into other communities would be the ability to partner with existing organizations that have a history with the community and can help provide ongoing support. (Pasadena organizations supporting CAP at John Muir High School include Pasadena Community Foundation and Pasadena Mentoring Partnership.)

Wine Event at Fatty’s & Co.

Every year, CAP raises funds at a yearly wine benefit at the well-known Eagle Rock restaurant that Hyman praises for being “community based” and for its “consciousness” about using locally sourced food. This year, CAP Fourth Annual Wine Event is scheduled for Wednesday, March 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

For just $30, Fatty’s will offer a flight of sustainable wines from Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles, a selection of gourmet cheeses, in-house vegan appetizers, not to mention a ticket to a special prize drawing. All proceeds will go directly to CAP to support students.

Helping Students Dream—Bigger

CAP’s primary message to students is “Dream Bigger”—and they appear to have taken the message to heart. Many are attending universities such as UC Berkeley and USC. One student, Valeria Sosa, was a Gates Millennium Scholar. Another student, Destiny Iwuoma, was a finalist for the prestigious program.

“I don’t even know if I would’ve got the Gates Millennium scholarship if it weren’t for CAP,” says Sosa—one of many tributes to the organization posted on its website.

Come to think about it—$30 to help realize a dream? Sounds like a deal.

NOTE: Cash and checks ONLY at the door. Prior to the event, pay online via PayPal or credit card at www.collegeaccessplan.org. Donate online by Sunday, March 18, and make a reduced donation of $25.

Susan R March 14, 2012 at 03:10 PM
How does this help kids in Eagle Rock, Franklin High (Failure High) and Lincoln High school?
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson March 15, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Hopefully, Susan, organizations in the neighborhoods of the schools that you mention will see how College Access Plan is helping students at John Muir High School and will be inspired to get involved.

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