A national scholarship started by a Newport Beach developer is coming to two schools in the Newport-Mesa district.
Beginning next year, the Simon Scholars program will be available to 16 students a year, eight each from Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools. The comprehensive, six-year program provides funding for college and the help needed to get there: mentoring, workshops and outings.
Applicants must demonstrate significant financial need.
Newport Beach resident Ron Simon, founder of RSI Development and his family's foundation, started the program 10 years ago to help high school students in Santa Ana. It has since expanded to school districts in Anaheim, Garden Grove, Oceanside and San Marcos, as well as New Mexico, Georgia and Washington, D.C.
Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said he helped bring the program to Newport-Mesa Unified after a conversation he had more than a year ago with Simon.
Mensinger said he was trying to see if Simon could help Estancia's woodworking and metalworking programs. Simon then mentioned his scholarship program, which got the ball rolling at Newport-Mesa Unified to make it be available to Costa Mesa high schoolers.
"I said, 'Ron, how about in your own backyard?'" Mensinger recalled telling him.
The program seemed like it was "everywhere but here," Mensinger added.
Students apply for Simon scholarships in their sophomore year. Finalists are interviewed and, if chosen, begin the program in the summer before their junior year.
Through high school, the Simon Scholars frequently form a close-knit peer group, said Kathy Simon Abels, Simon's daughter and the program's executive director.
"They join a larger community," Abels said. "They become part of a family. The kids call it, 'my brothers and sisters.' And they support each other. It's amazing to watch."
The program provides the students a laptop, SAT workshops, leadership training, coaching, college tours, retreats and other outings.
Organizers said each student receives $30,000 in college financial aid and other services throughout the six years. More than 700 students have received the scholarships and $23 million has been invested in the program.
Many of the scholars are minorities or the first in their families to attend a university, Abels said.
"They are role models and they're kids that show achievement is possible, even with adversity," she said. "I love these kids. They are just great people. They just have an inner strength and they're positive."
A presentation about the program is planned for the Jan. 7 Costa Mesa City Council meeting.