In 2017, the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-Generation Student Success launched the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration to acknowledge the success of first-generation college students. This year’s First-Generation College Celebration takes place on Nov. 8, 2021.

As part of its Strategic Plan, The San Diego Foundation is committed to fostering equity of opportunity by increasing access and resources for San Diegans facing barriers to realizing full and healthy lives. One way we foster equity of opportunity is through the Community Scholarship Program and the Community Scholars Initiative. Through the Community Scholars Initiative, The San Diego Foundation supports the work of community-based organizations that support a college-going culture and wraparound services.

We asked local students to share how the assistance they received from these organizations helped them in their pursuit of a higher education.

Samai Canizales

“Barrio Logan College Institute has meant a lot to me on my journey to college. From the awesome coordinators that have made sure my application submissions are as good as can be, to the connections I have established through BLCI [relationships], I feel like I’ve been supported as best as I possibly could have. I’ve met a lot of people in the program and had access to tutors that have allowed me to set myself up for success, and I am grateful for all the support I’ve had over the years.” –Samai Canizales, student at San Diego High School

Serenity Dorsey

“I like the way [the Urban League of San Diego County] engages with the community. I loved the speakers coming in and talking about their leadership skills… They had a couple of presentations that helped me further understand what I want to do.” –Serenity Dorsey, student at Clark Atlanta University

Ashley Gonzalez

“[The Barrio Logan College Institute] has been my support system since third grade, which allowed me to grow and flourish into the individual I am today. Through the leadership opportunities that BLCI offers, such as the Executive Director’s Leadership Council, I gained better insight into the importance of community activism and the significant role that we have in our communities.” –Ashley Gonzalez, student at the University of San Diego

Karla Gonzalez

“As part of the Project Ready program with the Urban League of San Diego County, I became mentally and emotionally prepared for the challenges that college will present. Project Ready has encouraged me to have confidence in my potential.” –Karla Gonzalez, student at University of California, Davis

Ainhoa Leal

“I was extremely fortunate to have a school that went into detail about the college process plus the additional help from [Barrio Logan College Institute] and [MANA de San Diego], and for that, I will always be thankful. When the time came to start college applications, the anxiety and excitement started to settle. Once I was finished with all my applications, I felt accomplished because I put my foot in the door to being the first in my family to go to college.” –Ainhoa Leal, student at Grossmont College

Vanessa Ortega

“The assistance I have received from The San Diego Foundation and MANA de San Diego has meant that I have been able to follow one of my many goals: pursue higher education. MANA de San Diego has supported this goal by providing me with a mentor starting at the young age of 12, providing college application assistance workshops, and by establishing valuable networking skills when interacting with professionals. I credit the MANA de San Diego program and its members that make it possible in helping me get accepted into a four-year institution which I attend today.” –Vanessa Ortega, student at University of California San Diego

Meliya Russom

“The Urban League provides me with opportunities to attend scholarship workshops, meet with college admissions officers, and speak with professionals from various career fields, all of which have made me more knowledgeable and prepared as I tackle the college application process. It means so much to me that I can rely on this program for support and guidance as I apply for colleges and select my majors of interest. I am extremely grateful to be part of a program that invests so much time and effort in supporting its students.” –Meliya Russom, student at The Preuss School

Nahomi Sanchez

“The assistance from The San Diego Foundation and Barrio Logan College Institute has meant the future to me. I wouldn’t be going to college at all or if I was, I wouldn’t have been so prepare for it without the assistance. I even have a support network that I can reach out to and ask for help, now that I’m doing college applications, which takes off a lot of stress on my plate, but I also know that a lot of people don’t get the same support as I do. At the end of the day, this assistance makes me even more motivation to go to college because I can’t let down all the people who believe in me and have dedicated their time into helping me. And now, I don’t want to go to college for myself but for everyone who has helped me, and to hopefully, one day help those like the ones who helped me.” –Nahomi Sanchez, student at East Village Middle College High School

Pablo Shimizu

“Thank you to the Urban League of San Diego, who has been a great support during my college-going journey. As a first-generation college student, the Urban League has provided valuable information that will help me throughout my collegiate career, as well as various opportunities that allow me to learn about the different industries and career options that will help better our community.” –Pablo Shimizu, student at Bonita Vista High School

Sofia Valles

“The assistance of MANA de San Diego has meant being where I am right now, attending one of the most prestigious public universities and advancing my professional career. Being a Latina, first-generation immigrant the odds were not in my favor but with the help of MANA I was able to overcome these odds, one of them being my financial status. Through MANA I found out about the great financial opportunities The San Diego Foundation offers. As the eldest child I was constantly aware of the financial burden that university would have on my family and myself and I questioned whether it was worth it. But through the donations to The San Diego Foundation I am able to pursue a major in Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles without the constant pressure of debt. I can continue to plan for my future without sacrificing opportunities in worry of increasing my debt.” –Sofia Valles, student at University of California Los Angeles

Learn more about the Community Scholarship Program, and the Community Scholars Initiative.