Last year my dear friend Gerri took me to an event for an organization called Meritus College Fund. I went just to support her, never expecting that I would be deeply impacted by the evening.
Meritus Fund gives scholarships and support to low-income Bay Area youth to help them get through college. Through a combination of financial scholarships, mentoring and coaching, these exceptional kids are given the support they need to graduate with a 4 year degree.
As I sat at the Meritus event and listened to the Meritus Scholars speak, I started to cry. I was so inspired by these young people. Young people, who against all odds, were lifting themselves out of poverty and despair. Young people who were achieving. Striving. Scraping. Against all odds.
All of the Meritus Scholars come from homes affected by poverty. Many live in neighborhoods riddled with gangs and violence. Many are first generation Americans. Most have parents who never went to college. As a girl who grew up with a struggling single mom, and as the first person in my family to graduate from college, I related to these kids big time. Even if my life was never even a fraction as challenging as theirs are.
I donated to the organization that night and then signed up to volunteer. Because I had to do something. I had to help.
I first volunteered as an application reader. When I sat at my desk and opened the first application, I was instantly gripped. The applicant was born a premie at six months and lives in the projects. He lost his mother as a toddler and was raised in foster care. And despite all that, despite pretty much having the odds stacked against him in every possible way, he persists. He studies hard. He gets killer grades in AP classes. He volunteers in his community. He works several jobs. He does it all to better himself and show the kids in his community that it is possible to pull yourself up. It is possible to change your life. It's not easy, but it is possible.
I was blown away.
The second application I opened was similar. Poverty. Personal hardship. Lack of parental support. And once again, the kid faced the seemingly unsurmountable adversity in her life with grit, determination and a will to succeed. Every application hit me in the gut. These kids are so disenfranchised. They have absolutely no support. No advantage. They are brilliant and kind and hard working, and yet the world is completely stacked against them. The world is expecting them to fail. Forcing them to fail. The injustice of it all infuriated me. As I read the applications, I just wanted to meet these kids.
I got that opportunity a few weeks later.
My second round of volunteer work was the most rewarding. I got to actually sit down and interview the kids. And wow. Just wow.
I met a 17-year-old who comes from the self-proclaimed “ghetto.” He was abandoned by his father and lives with his single mother and siblings. Every day before school he gets his siblings ready for the day, heads to high school for class, then to a local college for advanced math classes his school doesn't offer (he wants to be an engineer), then to work as a bus boy, then home to do homework to support his near perfect grades. He gave up his beloved soccer to help support his mother when his stepfather walked out. All this kid wants in life is to be a hero for his community. A hero to his family. To show that it's possible to break the cycle of poverty, one person at a time.
Every single kid I encountered through the application process was amazing. Every kid had great grades. Every kid juggled multiple jobs and family obligations to help his or her parents. Every kid was involved in bettering his or her community. Every kid was a rock star.
I had an impossible time choosing who to send through. “I just want to help them all!” I said to my husband when I finished the interviews. And I do. I just want to help them all. And if you want to help them, here's the link to donate. xo, Deva