NEWS: Tough guy’s ‘Reality’ check has big payoff

March 23rd, 2012 – This article featuring Eduardo Corona, Reality Changers’ Wednesday Night Site Director, was written by Karla Peterson and featured on the San Diego Union Tribune.

A lot of people thought Eduardo Corona would be dead by now. And if not dead, certainly in jail. And if not in jail yet, surely on his way.

For awhile, one of those people was Eduardo Corona. But on a day that started with classes at San Diego State University and ended with another evening of helping kids make their college dreams come true, this confident young man in a dress shirt and tie is proud to say that the doom-and-gloom crowd was wrong about him. And he is particularly thrilled that he was so very wrong about himself.

“After looking at the obstacles I overcame, I realized that I’m a strong person,” the 20-year-old SDSU student said before a meeting at Reality Changers, a nonprofit program that gives at-risk and disadvantaged teens the support and resources they need to go to college. “I am a religious guy, and I realized that God put me here to help people. This is my mission.”

The third of four children, Corona is the first member of his family to graduate from a traditional high school and the only one to go to a four-year college. And after a day of classes, he heads to the Reality Changers offices.

As the director of academic performance for the group’s City Heights chapter, he leads meetings, helps with homework and joins the weekly community-service jaunts. He is also a sympathetic ear and troubleshooter for the kids who know they can call, text, email or drop by his house any time of the day or night.

“I look up to him as my big brother now,” said Alex Balderas, a Hoover High School freshman and a member of Corona’s group. “He has the same background and he’s been through a lot of the same experiences. For him to go through all that and become this gentleman is very good to see.”

Less than six years ago, Corona was headed down the same bad-news trail blazed by way too many City Heights kids before him, including his older brother and sister. Was he cutting class? Of course he was cutting class. Did his grades stink? Yes, they did. Were there gang-related issues? Lucky for him, there were.

Because of his gang involvement, Corona — then a student at Wilson Middle School — ended up at the Copley Family YMCA, folding towels to fulfill his mandated community service and looking quite surly about it. That’s where he met Reality Changers founder Christopher Yanov. For probably the first time in his young troublemaking life, Eduardo Corona was in the right place at the right time.

“I was coming out of a meeting about starting a chapter there, and we were wondering where we were going to find students for it, and there Eduardo was in the lobby,” Yanov remembers. “He definitely fit the mold of the tough guy in the neighborhood. I just looked at him and I thought, ‘OK, let’s try this one.’ ”

It was a gamble, and the payoff was not immediate. Corona was such a tough guy, it took more than one roll of film to get a shot of him smiling for his first Reality Changers ID card. Just one month into the program, he was caught stealing laptops and other supplies from an unlocked Franklin Elementary School classroom.

That was in September of 2006. A sympathetic judge gave Corona a month to improve his grades and clean up his act. Much to his own surprise, Corona doubled his GPA to a 3.8. The following summer, Corona qualified for a Reality Changers scholarship to UCSD’s prestigious Academic Connections program, where he earned the top two design prizes in his mechanical-engineering class.

“When I was hanging out with my old friends, all you would hear about was drugs and gangs and friends getting pregnant,” Corona said, staring out the window of Yanov’s office, which overlooks a rough stretch of University Avenue. “When I came here, I heard about studying and college and positive things. That is what changed me.”

Many things changed because of Reality Changers. After graduating from Serra High School in 2010, Corona was going to study mechanical engineering. Now he is thinking of going into psychology or social work instead. His older brother graduated from the Charter School of San Diego and is now taking junior-college classes. His younger brother is a productive Wilson Middle School student with a 4.0 grade average.

And Corona is not only alive, he is alive and thriving and passing it on.

“Like most of our students, he was smarter than he ever thought he was,” Yanov said. “And now he is helping all of the little Eduardos in City Heights realize they are a lot smarter than they think they are. And he makes everybody in the office laugh all day long.”


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