SOY gives seniors a glimpse of their collegiate future


No matter how many university brochures or online pictures they flip through, students can’t always picture their futures at college until they actually visit the campus.

Earlier this month, Save Our Youth enabled youths to go on a Northern California college trip.

Each year, the Costa Mesa-based teen-assistance group known as SOY organizes university visits for students in its academic program so they can see the college environment in person.


“I was accepted to my first choice, UC Berkeley, so I had to go see it,” Karina Camarena said. “These are the next four years of our lives. We have to make sure it’s right.”

Some students will speak about their experiences on the trip during the nonprofit’s seventh annual fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Halecrest Club in Costa Mesa.

Students Melanie Hercules, Graciela Gonzalez, Arelly Ocampo, Maria Medrano-Duarte and Camarena were the graduating seniors who went on the college tour. They were joined by seven juniors who are also part of SOY’s academic program.

Before heading out on the road, the seniors had received their college acceptance letters but said they were eager to finally set foot on the various state universities and UC campuses before making a commitment.

SOY coordinators Silvia Rosales and Eduardo Iniestra arranged and supervised the visit to 10 campuses.

Being on a campus gives students the chance to learn more about university programs, dorms and clubs.

“We could go on tours and ask about things that aren’t on the ‘frequently asked questions’ page on school websites,” Gonzalez said. “Then you have a moment where it just clicks and you know you want to be here.”

While the annual event is typically a five-day trip, Rosales and Iniestra added an extra day to allow for travel to San Francisco.

Their northern most destination was Hercules’ first choice, UC Davis. The school has a food sciences program, and that is an area she is determined to study.

Although SOY’s juniors won’t attend college until the next school year, the tour gave them a chance to see what their future can look like.

“We created a bond with the juniors on the trip because they’ll be in this situation next year,” Ocampo said. “We were able to let them know that they can do this too.”

After coming home from the college tour, many of the seniors officially committed to the universities they had just visited.

With the help of private donations, grants and fundraisers, SOY is able to offer college trips and other activities. This includes programs related to art, sports, music, hiking, dance and academic tutoring.

Each year, SOY’s Fiesta fundraiser attracts numerous guests and potential donors and offers a space for students to dance, sing and even speak about their time in the program.

By sharing their experiences, the seniors hope Fiesta guests will see the impact SOY has had on their lives.

“We’re speaking not only for ourselves but for other kids in this program,” Medrano-Duarte said. “People at Fiesta will get to hear what SOY has done for us and maybe they’ll help us continue their work.”

Admission to the Fiesta is $60 in advance or $75 at the door. Appetizers, cocktails, dinner and dessert are included.

Halecrest Club is at 3107 Killybrooke Lane in Costa Mesa. For more information, call (949) 548-8501 or visit