Nonprofit helps students step up to their passions

It was a warm and sunny Friday afternoon at the beach when 16-year-old Monica Candelario learned something new about herself.

"I learned that I'm brave," she said. "I know when I put my mind into something, I can accomplish it."

Although she was afraid to get on a surfboard and learn to catch a wave, the excitement of tackling something new helped push her through.

When Monica, a member of SteppingUP, a college preparation program offered by the nonprofit Orange County Community Housing Corp., first heard that her group was going to learn how to surf, she right away decided against the idea.

But after thinking about it, she knew she had to do it because it would teach her something beyond the obvious lesson.

"I feel getting out of your comfort zone is good because, in life, you're not going to always be in your comfort zone," Monica said.

Fear took over her when she first got into the water to surf with an instructor. She said she even felt like she was going to drown.

But then something happened.

"It was exciting to catch a wave, and then I laughed," Monica said. "It felt good."

Monica was one of a few dozen junior high and high school students who participated in the activity July 22 in Huntington Beach. The housing corporation is a nonprofit that caters to those with low incomes, said Program Director Monica Cardenas.

SteppingUP prepares those students, who otherwise would not be exposed to many resources, with life lessons, activities and field trips that help them get on the right track to pursue their passions.

"We want them to get a feel for their opportunities and graduate high school with options, and be able to have good information on what they want to do next," Cardenas said.

The students take field trips to universities and museums, and watch performances to get exposed to the arts, among other activities.

The surfing lessons were put together in collaboration with Dufour Insurance Services, which helped sponsor the event, Cardenas said.

Alba Rodriguez, 16, said she wouldn't be able to do all of these activities if she wasn't in the program.

"My parents are busy all the time, and it wouldn't be the same," she said.

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