When you were growing up did anyone ever tell you that you weren’t smart enough? That your college or career aspirations were too lofty? That your dreams were too far fetched?
At Reality Changers, we have, unfortunately, heard stories about less-than-supportive adults in our students’ lives. We’re here to provide a counter-narrative.
We connect youth with mentors who believe in them. Our staff and volunteers serve as tutors, cheerleaders, counselors, teachers, role models and friends for our students. In a world where many students, especially students from underserved communities, hear “no, you can’t,” we’re here to say, “yes, you can… and here’s how!”
One of our graduates, Jennifer, was recently telling us about the difference that caring, supportive adults have made in her life. Jennifer went to Mission Vista High School and is a senior at the University of California, Irvine. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and the first in her family to go to college.
“I honestly did not know anything about college. I applied for Reality Changers because I was like, ‘Well, I have no idea what I am doing and my parents can’t help me. I need help.’”
During high school, Jennifer connected with a Reality Changers coach who worked with her to draft application essays, hone her academic resume, and practice post-high school skills like networking. Her coach encouraged her to apply for more selective schools.
“My coach really helped me,” Jennifer says. “She pushed me to apply for more schools. She told me I could do it. I wouldn’t be at UC Irvine without her.”
In college, Jennifer joined the Reality Changers Alumni Network Mentorship program, which matches a student or recent graduate with a working professional. Jennifer’s volunteer mentor is Claudia, a tax attorney. Claudia is a first-generation college graduate herself and was profoundly affected by mentors in her life. For her, volunteering is a way to pay it forward.
“I want to be the person that stands up and fights for someone else,” Claudia explains. “I want to be the person who can say, ‘You can do this. If that’s what you want to be, let’s a find a way to get you there.’”
When she joined the program, Jennifer was unsure about what she wanted to do after college. In order to help her narrow down options, Claudia brought Jennifer to networking events and connected her to professionals in different fields.
When Jennifer was feeling nervous about going to Washington DC to intern in the US House of Representatives, Claudia encouraged her. Jennifer remembers her saying, “yes, you need to go. You need to go do it and live in DC and try it out.”
The experience helped Jennifer decide to pursue a career in politics and public service. “My proudest accomplishment is that I worked in DC on Capitol Hill. I never thought I would be there,” she says. Jennifer is currently interning with the City of San Diego and she hopes to work in a government office after she graduates.
At Reality Changers, we know that mentors make a difference in high school, college, and beyond. Research shows that first-generation youth who have a mentor are more likely to enroll in college and that mentorship increases student retention rates during college.
According to Jennifer, “Reality Changers is so important, especially for first-generation students who don’t know what the college application process is like or even whether they want to go to college. Any questions you have, you can ask.’”
Our students need mentors now more than ever. Rising inflation is putting stress on families, stretching parents and caregivers thin. You can help ensure that students with big goals have someone there to help guide them, listen, or plan next steps. Make a donation to invest in mentorship.