OAKLAND -- Come May 22, 40 college-bound students will attend an awards ceremony in Oakland to receive a four-year, $16,000 scholarship from the East Bay College Fund. During the ceremony, scholars will share their goals and some of their histories, most likely including overcoming adversity and being the first of their families to attend college.

Recognizing the need for more than just financial aid, East Bay College Fund pairs each scholarship recipient with a mentor, there for the entire college experience, ready with support and guidance, to lend a been-there-done-that ear and to forge a personal relationship. To ensure the success of 2013's 40 new scholarships, East Bay College Fund is turning to the community to become part of this amazing group of scholars and the people who support them.

The organization was begun in 2003, founded by Andy Fremder, and a small group that included his wife, Barb, and sister, Julie. Their goal was to target students attending an Oakland public school with a 3.0 to 3.7 grade-point average, who had overcome adversity and knew how to persevere. That year they awarded seven Great Expectations scholarships. Nine years and 187 scholarships later, the accomplishments remain the same.

"Number one is that a college degree for a low-income student is a game changer and is the number-one way to end generational poverty," said Diane Dodge, executive director of the East Bay College Fund. "The second is all the experiences students will have that will expand their perspective and what it will do for them personally, and the third is giving back to the community for other students to see what they've done."

Student support begins in high school with college-access programs and full-time staff at Castlemont and Oakland high schools who get students on the college track and talk to them about financial planning and college life. During junior and senior year, volunteers help them with college, financial aid and scholarship applications.

At five Oakland high schools, East Bay College Fund comes in one day a week to teach young men in the manhood development class about college, as part of the African American Male Achievement Initiative.

"We have school-based services because we want to have equity for all," Dodge said. "We're trying to change the culture of the school."

The programs are paying off; last year, the fund received 350 completed applications for 35 scholarships. This year, they hope to award 40, and to this end the community can help with donations, by serving as volunteers or by committing as a mentor.

Piedmont residents Maude Pervere and husband Sam Miller are each mentoring and describe their experiences as rewarding, providing an opportunity to make a difference in a young person's life while being exposed to a community of scholars and mentors that are inspiring.

"This is a relationship with a young person who is in a position to educate us about the struggle to take advantage of education, and I have found that the students teach us more than we ever teach them," Pervere said.

Miller feels the time commitment is not a problem and even welcomes times when things do not go well.

"To see these young people overcome difficulties -- and you are there to help them succeed -- is part of the reward," he said.

Dodge added that a big factor for students, a buoyancy in tough times, is that their mentors, people of quality, believe in them and are willing to be there for them.

With an 83 percent graduation rate, compared to 30 percent nationally for the same demographic, there's no question that East Bay College Fund's mentor-supported scholarships are helping students complete college. More than that, these scholars are coming back to the community, serving as models for younger students and helping to affect change.

"You feel that here's a whole community who look at things in a different way and really can make a difference," Miller said. "This is an inspiring organization to be affiliated with."

FYI
For more information about the East Bay College Fund, to make a donation or to learn more about the mentoring program, go to www.eastbaycollegefund.org or call 510-836-8900.