I’m a first generation college student. I didn’t have a program like College Connect to guide me through the process. When I’m seeing these young people through this critical transitional moment in their lives I’m also thinking about alumni services and how we help them beyond college graduation.
Location: San Francisco
Profession: Director of the College Connect Program, Mission Graduates
Can you tell me about your role and the path that led to it?
As the Director of the College Connect Program, I grow the program and provide the vision for the framework of it with my staff’s feedback. I am also an ambassador for the organization. My recent background is in community organizing in the Mission district of San Francisco but most of the work I’ve done was focused on youth. As an organizer, I focused on issues of violence in the community, particularly public housing development sites. Previously, I met the Executive Director of Mission Graduates and when I was ready to do something else, he told me about this opportunity. I had done work with youth. The work I was doing as an organizer was with a range of people. I really wanted to get back to doing youth work.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The community aspect. I enjoy building relationships with parents, students and colleagues. We start with an idea, build it into a program or initiative. It’s great to do that with collaborative community partners and staff. Getting feedback from students helps us make our programming relevant and engaging. Working with the incredible community of students and my caring staff is what’s most rewarding, along with getting more students from the Mission into college.
What’s the biggest challenge?
I miss the direct contact with the students. I see people, but I’m not doing the direct service. I still work with them because it’s hard not to with such a small team but it’s different in my role now. Being a nonprofit comes with all sorts of funding challenges. We need to run and offer this program to the community, finding the dollars for it isn’t always easy. We need donations and people want to give money to specific students or projects, which is great, but it’s important for us to have unrestricted dollars to develop programming that meets the needs of our population.
Who inspires you?
The youth – their stories are so similar to my story. I’m a first generation college student. I didn’t have a program like College Connect to guide me through the process. When I’m seeing these young people through this critical transitional moment in their lives I’m also thinking about alumni services and how we help them beyond college graduation. Besides, they stay connected to us after college graduation anyway. They motivate me to keep doing this work. I work with my team to make the program more dynamic: every year we send 25 more students to college. It’s wonderful that students volunteer during college and after they graduate. They talk about their experience – it’s giving back to this community.
How can others help your organization?
We’re looking for people to volunteer and donate. In particular we’d love to have first-gen professionals of color but we don’t turn anyone away. We need them to invest time in a young person to be a writing coach and eventually transition into a mentor once the student is in college. We’re starting to recruit writing coaches for the summer to help our rising high school seniors write personal statements. We’re also looking for career mentors for our college students.
What’s one powerful story of a student you have helped?
I have worked with a student born and raised in the Mission District. She knew she wanted to go to college. If it wasn’t for the program she wouldn’t have known deadlines to apply. After her first semester in college, she called me – she would call me Mama Cat – she said “I just got my report card and it says I’m on the Dean’s List – is that a good thing or am I in trouble?” I chuckled and told her that’s a good thing, a really good thing. She’s been on the Dean’s List the entire time in school. Before she started her sophomore year, she had a baby girl. She was in school on the first day of class. She has a supportive family which enables her to do these amazing things.
Why do you work in the nonprofit world and what would you say to others to encourage them to do so?
I do this for the service of others, not the money.If you want to get into this world, and your heart is calling you, you should do it. I’m happy I live in the community. My colleagues, my staff, my students, they are my family, I see them on my way to work and after work. Financially, I’m doing fine. I’m not getting a huge paycheck. But, I’m very lucky to live in the city where I work because I have so many friends who live outside the city for financial considerations it’s really hard to afford to live in the Bay Area. My work and life are so blended. I enjoy that.