Mentor program helps students attend 

click to enlarge Summer Search Program mentor Raquel Gonzalez helps aspiring college students, like Winnie Wang (pictured), prepare for the summer programs by trying on hiking boots, socks, jackets and other goods at the Summer Search offices on Sansome street in San Francisco's financial district. - MIKE KOOZMIN/ THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/ The S.F. Examiner
  • Summer Search Program mentor Raquel Gonzalez helps aspiring college students, like Winnie Wang (pictured), prepare for the summer programs by trying on hiking boots, socks, jackets and other goods at the Summer Search offices on Sansome street in San Francisco's financial district.

When a high school guidance counselor noticed Raquel Gonzalez distancing herself from classmates and not joining school activities, he suggested she apply to the mentoring program Summer Search. So Gonzalez prepared for an impersonal interview. She never anticipated what happened instead.

“I broke down in tears,” she said. “The interview was way more personal and intense than I expected. I just cried and told them everything that was going on in my life.”

Summer Search is a San Francisco-based organization that serves low-income high school students in seven major cities throughout the nation. It provides year-round mentoring, college advising and full-ride scholarships to summer programs worldwide.

“Summer Search completely transforms the odds for low-income first generation kids,” said Amy Saxton, CEO of Summer Search. “Usually one in 10 low-income students go on to get a bachelor’s degree. For our students, it’s well over 75 percent.”

Each student in the program is guaranteed two trips to help build confidence and widen experiences. Students also communicate weekly with a mentor who helps guide him or her through school and home troubles.

“We help and support our students but they are the ones who find it within themselves to do well in class and overcome very difficult home situations,” said Liz Hurst, a spokeswoman for Summer Search.

Following Gonzalez’ interview, she was immediately selected to be a part of the program. Her mentor helped her with college applications, financial aid and scholarships. She ultimately was accepted into eight colleges around the country and graduated from Wisconsin’s Riton College in 2007.

It’s a far cry from her prospects when she moved into a one-bedroom Tenderloin apartment with six family members as a five year old.

Growing up, Gonzalez had watched the lives of many classmates stall at an early age, as they got pregnant, involved with drugs or dropped out of school. Gonzalez refused to get involved with what the other kids were doing, so she didn’t have many friends by the time she entered high school.

“I did well in school, but barely anyone in the Tenderloin aspired to be anything,” Gonzalez said. “I felt like I was floating in the middle.”

Today, Gonzalez is 26 years old and a volunteer at Summer Search. She has moved out of the Tenderloin and is considering attending graduate school.

“No one in my family went to college so I really wouldn’t have had any guidance without my mentor at Summer Search,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve set the bar pretty high for my little sister. She’s in high school and now knows how important it is for her to go to college.”

ccopeland@sfexaminer.com

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Carolyn Copeland

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