San Francisco’s Meritus College Fund is a definite success story. As one of the first Bay Area college success programs, the grassroots organization helps low-income, ambitious city youth complete a college degree and prepare for their success post-college through a mixture of scholarships, coaching and personal mentoring.
Since 1996, Meritus has been at the forefront of impacting access to higher education for low-income youth. Meritus is proud of the graduation rates of its scholars; 87% of its Scholars graduate from four-year colleges, compared with 23% of low-income students nationally. These are high numbers, and Meritus is understandably delighted.
Meritus announces its new class of 2014 Scholars: 50 students -- all are low-income and represent over 15 San Francisco public high schools. Each of these honored students who earn GPAs between 3.0 - 3.7 in spite of exceptional life circumstances, receives a $16,000 four-year scholarship along with ongoing, individualized coaching, mentoring, and career development to help them navigate the challenges and opportunities of higher education.
As First Lady Michelle Obama spearheads the White House initiative to impact access to and completion of higher education for low-income youth, the success of the Meritus program could not be better timed. Since its 1996 start Meritus has actively pursued this goal and raised over $7.5 million in scholarship funding alone to provide access to four year colleges for close to 600 low-income San Francisco public high school graduates.
Personal stories say it best. Three new 2014 Scholars share their stories here:
- Tamicia Wakefield almost gave up on school, but thanks to a school counselor who encouraged her to keep going, she is on her way to college. Tamicia, who while growing up lived in over ten different homes in seven cities in two states, was accepted to fifteen colleges and universities. Family financial struggles forced Tamicia to work to help support her family causing her to consider dropping out of school, but fortunately she found the strong support she needed at school. “During my 10th grade year at International Studies Academy in San Francisco I finally established myself in a nurturing community that allowed me to showcase my abilities without being judged and ridiculed. I started to see the importance of focusing on school and going to college, not just for myself, but for everyone around me.” Tamicia says “My counselor and teachers knew me very well and knew I could do better than what I was doing, and I knew so too. After countless meetings and sessions where I was the topic of discussion, I picked up many counseling skills. I started to use them on my friends and classmates who were going through the same predicament I was once in.” Tamicia knows what her career goals are, “I want to live out my dream of becoming a counselor so I can do unto others what was done unto me, and to be the very best at it,” she says with the determination she is known for.
- Zenay Clemmons, an African-American first-generation female, grew up in the Bayview-Hunters Point District where “drugs and violence are prominent and success is rare.” Zenay speaks of the lack of female leaders in the African-American community and views going to college as an opportunity to change this. Her twin sister Zaria Clemmons is also in the program. Zenay describes herself as “A girl with dreams and endless possibilities. I'm a sixteen-year-old girl who is defying the odds. I grew up in the infamously disadvantaged Bayview-Hunters Point District in San Francisco, California where drugs and violence are prominent and success is rare.” Beating the odds has been Zenay’s passion, and she will succeed. ”My education has been a priority, and that is what I mainly focus on. I have stayed dedicated and I have seen the results, now more than ever, I have been on the Honor Roll throughout my entire high school career, as well as maintained above a 3.5 grade point average,” she says.
- Valery Vallin is a Latino first-generation female with dreams of becoming a nurse or an interior designer. She was committed to learning English as an English as a Second Language learner, and says “Going to college has been my mission since I was in elementary school… In fourth grade, I was already thinking about how I was going to pay to attend college.” A college education is important to Valery; years of growing up in a financially strapped immigrant family have propelled Valery to realize her dreams. “I believe that through a college education I'll gain the security and stability that's been lacking from my life. I'll earn a steady career that I'll enjoying working in and be able to provide for myself and my parents after they retire. I could say that attending and graduating from college is one of my dreams, but that would be an understatement. Going to college isn't a dream for me, it's a reality,” she says with conviction.
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