"I definitely know that the program has helped me get into college and stay in college," Garcia said.
Each year the program provides 12 to 15 participants with scholarships averaging $3,000 a year for all four years of college. These scholarships supplement the money students already receive from colleges and state grants. All the scholars also work while attending school, and are paired up with an adult mentor who stays in frequent touch, helping students manage their time and money.
"Our purpose is to make college achievable," said Nancy Lippe, director of the program.
Most students stay in California, attending UCs, CSUs and community colleges, but some have attended out-of-state private schools such as Cornell University.
Scholar Yamrot Alemu, who just graduated from Santa Clara University with a biology degree, said the program was crucial in helping him cover finances. "As a science major, the books were really expensive. It helped me to pay for my books each quarter," he said.
MVLA Community Scholars, which is sponsored in part by the charitable Los Altos Community Foundation (LACF), chooses its applicants based on financial circumstances, characteristics and readiness. Lippe said most participants have had a difficult past. One of the program's first graduates, for example, was kicked out of his house during high school, but attended college, became a journalist and now covers presidential elections for the Washington Post.
"With the support of a broader community, these students, who face so many challenges, are more likely to succeed," Lippe said.
In addition to financial and mentor support, MVLA Community Scholars offers summer and winter workshops and socials for students, requiring freshmen to attend a seminar before they start college. Most recently, the organization began offering a cooking-for-college class, where mentors teach students how to shop on a budget while eating healthily.
The program was created in 2000 by former MVLA Superintendent Rich Fischer, LACF founder Jim Strand and Rich Freeland of the MVLA High School Foundation. Although LACF once funded the program entirely, scholarship money now comes from private donors, mostly Mountain View and Los Altos residents.
Applications for upcoming scholarships will be made available Feb. 15 and are due April 17. For those wishing to donate, Lippe is currently raising money for scholarships for the 2008-09 school year. To find out more, visit www.mvlacommunityscholars.org. •
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