Graduating with more than swimming lessons

The chance to attend summer camp and learn to sail and swim are what drew 18-year-old Ana Munguia into a program eight years ago that would help her get into college and then help pay for it.

But what was supposed to be a way to hang out with her friends over the summer changed her whole life for the better.

Dressed up with a red carnation pinned over her heart, Munguia graduated Friday evening from El Viento at a small ceremony at Golden West College's amphitheatre.

El Viento is an organization that takes students in the underprivileged, mostly Latino, Oak View neighborhood, between Warner and Slater avenues, and Beach Boulevard and Gothard Street, and helps them get into college by giving them academic assistance, enrichment opportunities from fourth grade through graduation and then pays for their first two years of college wherever they decide to go.

Back in fourth grade, Munguia said, she didn't think about going to college; she just wanted to go to summer camp.

Eight years later, that one decision has changed everything, she said.

Growing up in the Oak View community, Munguia said she was surrounded by the wrong people and faced with enormous pressure to join gangs and do drugs. It was a hard place to grow up, she said.

"El Viento just kind of pushed me away from all that," she said, by helping her get involved in school.

El Viento started in 1997 and has grown from an idea to a program serving about 180 students. El Viento officials watched the students grow up and lived their trials and tribulations with them, said Jack Shaw, the organization's co-founder.

To see them finally graduate is a proud day, he said.

"It's like watching our own kids grow up and graduate. It's that fulfilling for me," Shaw said.

Now that Munguia is leaving El Viento, she said she wants to come back and eventually get a job with the organization.

"I just want to give back to the program that gave so much to me," she said.

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