Because of the financial demands on his Costa Mesa family, which includes three younger sisters, Ricardo "Ricky" Herrera never thought he would have the money to attend college outside of Orange County.
With the help of Save Our Youth, or SOY, a nonprofit group that provides tutoring and other after-school activities for students in the city's lower-income Westside, the 18-year-old Estancia High School senior will attend UC Berkeley in the fall.
Herrera received a $3,325 SOY scholarship, a $2,000 Assistance League scholarship, a $1,000 Balboa Bay Club scholarship and the prestigious Isidore and Penny Myers Memorial Scholarship.
The Myers scholarship, which is available through SOY to students who are immigrants or children of immigrants and maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average, will provide Herrera with $10,000 annually for four years. It is the largest available through SOY.
"If I hadn't received these scholarships, I probably would have had to stay in the area," Herrera said. "I didn't expect a single one, but I'm relieved that I don't have to burden my parents with the financial hardship that comes with college."
Herrera is among 21 Estancia, Costa Mesa, Early College and Newport Harbor high school students who received scholarships this month from SOY. In total, SOY distributed more than $25,000 to local students to use for college.
Herrera started going to SOY when he was in seventh grade. Through the years, he has stuck with the organization, taking advantage of its tutoring, college counseling, after-school fitness and community service programs.
Even while he was busy studying for his own Advanced Placement classes, Herrera always took the time to tutor other students at SOY, said board member Mary Cappellini.
"Ricky is a very humble kid who comes from a humble background," she said. "He's very smart, dedicated and warm, especially when working with other students."
For someone who had never traveled outside California, deciding where to go to college was a bit overwhelming.
He applied and was accepted to 11 universities, including New York University, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA and San Diego State, but ultimately decided on Berkeley, where he plans to study molecular and cellular biology.
He fell in love with the campus while on a college tour with SOY.
"It's been my top choice for as long as I can remember," he said. "I remember hearing one of my classmates talk about her trip there in middle school. It sounded like a magical place."
The Myers Scholarship, which the Myers family set up to advance the education of immigrants, has been awarded to students for the past seven years, said Jay Myers.
"This was the first year in seven years that the board has been unanimous in its decision of who should get the scholarship," Myers said. "Ricky is a pretty unusual guy for that reason."
Myers was especially impressed by Herrera's work ethic both in and out of the classroom.
On the weekends, Herrera helps his dad with his landscaping business, taking a role in providing for his family.
"He probably works 25 hours a week and still maintains excellent grades," Myers said. "He's an articulate, down-to-earth kid with real humility."