A View from the Mesa: SOY scholarships lose key funding source

There are many times when I wish I had more disposable income, but I have never wished to have cash like I did last week when I heard that the SOY Scholarship Program needs funding.

The Save Our Youth Center has been a second home for thousands of youth on the Westside since 1992. What was started as a gang-prevention and intervention program has evolved to be the hub of college readiness in our community.

SOY has been building and deepening its programs for the last two decades and has come to include health and fitness, an advanced art component and, perhaps most notably, a scholarship program that has 160 teens participating.

It is a unique program that offers financial incentives for students. Until earlier this year, students earned paychecks for their grades each month.

That same amount was saved and matched as a scholarship once the student graduated from high school.

To date, SOY's Scholarship Program has had 100% of its students go on to college, according to Executive Director Trevor Murphy.

He shared thank-you notes from SOY alumni who are in college. I was blown away by their accomplishments, including a student pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering and a young woman who is pre-med. Most of them are the first generation in their family to go to college.

"Our college-ready component has transformed how our community thinks about college," Trevor said as he described his students' success.

In addition to providing the scholarships and well-rounded programs, students are taken on college tours each year to experience campuses and expand their horizons.

In the thank-you notes, several students shared that the college trip to Stanford, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara and beyond was the first time they had been past Los Angeles.

One student commented that meeting SOY alumni studying on those campuses helped him believe that he could be successful in college, too. Trevor said that a lot of his executive effort in the past several years has been around moving students past high school to college, to helping kids through community college and into four-year schools.

"They go away and we celebrate," he said. "They are having success."

But the ability to help support that success is in jeopardy.

This past spring, the funding that had supported the program for the last 17 years was discontinued. The SOY staff has gotten creative in making adjustments from paying students in cash to a point system so they are still saving up for their scholarships.

The fear is not being able to fulfill the $370,000 that current students have already banked and are counting on for their education.

Trevor put things in perspective: "Parents don't know the systems. Counselors are overwhelmed and under-resourced. We have become a hub of college-readiness. The scholarship money was a tool, something we could leverage to motivate kids, but it was never the whole reason for the program."

The program inspires students to live up to their potential. SOY has been doing that for almost 20 years.

It started when a group of parents and community members rallied together to support teens and guide them to a positive life path. I wonder on the eve of the 20th anniversary if we might again band together as a community to come around students to stand with them as they pursue a bright future.

For more information on SOY, visit http://www.save-our-youth.org.

To support the SOY Scholarship Program, send tax-deductible donations to: SOY, 661 Hamilton St. Costa Mesa, CA 92627.

CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.

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