Friday, August 17, 2012

Ten Years of College Bound Success Stories

Leland Williams, 18, (left), Yesenia Hernandez, 18, and Leland's brother, Marsellas, 19, return to the club to see other success stories on the Boys and Girls Club walls.

Anabel Jimenez when she graduated from the College Bound program four years ago.
By Diana L. Chapman

She was quiet and shy, but Anabel Jimenez -- the subject of complex poverty and a deeply broken home -- knew she could be an "awesome statistic." While living a "Cinderella" lifestyle, she dreamed of becoming a family court judge.

The problem: she was 16 and had no map to get there. No parents aiding her. No money. She enrolled in the Boys and Girls Club College Bound program in San Pedro finding a new path.

Today, Jimenez, now 22, an unstoppable university graduate with plans to study law, has her eye on becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice. The Boys and Girls Club program, she said, gave her the "tools to navigate" through the college application process, provided a surrogate family and helped her snare a full ride to University of California, San Diego.

"Impoverished folk are surrounded by a world of negativity," Jimenez said. "Kids are taught to survive by being tough. But I needed more. I needed kindness, support  and people who believed in me. The Boys and Girls club gave me that hope and (taught me) kindness is not a weakness."  

Jimenez is one of hundreds that the College Bound program vaulted into success stories -- despite that its first year in 2002-2003 it met with dismal failure. Only one student went to college that year. Founder Mike Lansing knew he was missing something. Once he figured that out, the Harbor Area Boys and Girls club college numbers surged. Over the past four years , about 1,000 of its members trekked their way to a higher education trail and a chance to escape devastating poverty, gangs and crime.

That  first year, however, Lansing spent time figuring out what went wrong with his original equation.

The report was grim. Sitting in his office as the executive director of the Harbor Areas Boys and Girls Club, Lansing was dismayed to see high school aged kids wandering the streets while school was in session.

Asking  staff for a report, he learned that 50 percent of his members weren't graduating from high school -- a figure he knew doomed his members to life on the edge of gangs, drugs and poverty. That was ten years ago.

Lansing wanted to break that cycle and believed college was the way to do it. The first year he built a team of excellent volunteer professionals and a coordinator to prep his youth with the necessary college courses, SATs and essays. When only one senior went to college, he knew something went wrong.

The trouble: No one on the team could relate to the kid's troubles -- or be a role model.  He needed someone who understood their lives and who used college to get out and he knew exactly who fit the bill.

Yesenia Aguilar had finished her Bachelor's Degree at San Jose State University and was working on her teaching credential when he called to ask if she'd run College Bound.  He had tutored her when he volunteered at the club (before he landed the post) and was impressed by her determination to go to university.

"She was the poster child for College Bound," Lansing said. "She was the first in the family to go to college. Her brothers were gang members. Her parents were divorced. She was from an immigrant family with financial hardships."

Aguilar returned and helped turn the tide. She case managed and then oversaw College Bound at all the club's sites.

"There was no turning back after that," Aguilar. 34, said of her decision to return. "I feel so blessed that I had this opportunity to do what was done for me."

Today, Aguilar, who did get her teaching credential, helps replicate College Bound at other Boys and Girls Clubs, Lansing said, ten in the Los Angeles area and 44 nationwide from Boston to Hawaii.

The  harbor area clubs can now tout sending its members off to all the University of California campuses, all the state schools and across the country, including Notre Dame, Georgetown and Brown universities. 
Williams brothers and their friend Yesenia, says one of their  favorite things is to return to see the wall of new success stories.
This year alone, it was able to help 226 students get $3.6 million in financial aid. 

"The Boys and Girls Club is obviously the place to go," said Leland Williams, 18 who was back for summer from Hawaii Pacific University with his brother. "You can feel college vibes everywhere! I mean there are pictures of college success stories all over the walls!"

"I love the school I am at now, and it is thanks to the Boys and Girls Club for getting me started," said Marsalles Williams, 19.  "I couldn't ask for anything better."

"As I enter my sophomore year at Cornell, I can step back and see the amount of growth I have had and I owe a lot it to the Boys and Girls Club," said Yesenia Hernandez, 18, who attends the small campus in Iowa. "They gave me the sense of empowerment that I'm nurturing today."

As for that Jimenez kid, she graduated from University of California, San Diego, with a major in political science and law, minored in Italian literature, studied abroad, interned with the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. and at San Pedro's Superior Court and attended Harvard's Public Policy Leadership Conference.

She is now running the Boys and Girls Club teen center in Long Beach and in the fall will start working on her Master's Degree in social work at University of Southern California and toward her law degree.

She is no longer shy.