Saving youths one scholarship at a time

Estancia High School senior Erik Cerros will be the third person in his family to go to college, following the lead of his two older sisters.

He’ll be the second of the siblings to get there with help from the Westside Costa Mesa nonprofit Save Our Youth.

SOY runs academic and recreational after-school programs designed to guide low-income students toward education and away from distractions like drugs and gangs.

At a Thursday night awards banquet, SOY sent off 22 graduating seniors from schools across Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

They’ll be attending colleges like UCLA and San Francisco State or local campuses like Orange Coast College or Golden West.

SOY gave them $55,000 in scholarships to students like Cerros, who credits the organization with leading him to higher education.

“For the last couple of years I went there almost every day,” Cerros said, adding that he’d be in a completely different situation without SOY’s support.

The organization is giving him a $4,000 scholarship to attend UC San Diego in the fall where he’ll study electrical engineering.

Another Estancia senior, Jessica Neri remembers finding SOY when she was in seventh grade.

She walked in and saw textbooks lining the walls, the same books she’d need in the next six years of school.

“I knew it was a quiet place I could go and do my homework,” she said.

Last week, she found out SOY was also giving her $4,000 toward her education at Cal State Fullerton starting this fall. She’s double majoring in biology and child development.

Everyone at the center welcomes students with open arms, Cerros and Neri said.

“They help you get through a lot whether it’s getting your grades up or you need someone to talk to,” she said.

They help even when it means some prodding to turn in a college application, the two students added.

“I think it’s really important because if it weren’t for someone nagging me I would probably be missing a deadline or procrastinating,” Neri said.

Cerros, who spoke at Thursday’s banquet, said he was humbled by the opportunity, but mostly he was thankful.

The nonprofit’s name sums up the effect on his life, he said, “What it says: Save Our Youth. It is saving our youth.”