SAN PABLO -- Adrienne Clark had three compelling reasons for attending Saturday's United Negro College Fund's Empower Me Tour event at Contra Costa College. One was her 13-year-old daughter, Jada. Another was her 16-year-old niece, Arlinique Mason. And the third:
"Things have definitely changed since I was in school," Clark said, laughing.
The Empower Me Tour is in its sixth year of helping students and parents navigate the daunting prospect of preparing for and funding a college education.
"A lot of parents don't know where to look for resources for their students to go to school," said Paulette Jackson, UNCF vice president of development. "They need help identifying ways to send their student to school that will not put them in debt that might impact their retirement."
It is equally helpful for students, Jackson said, many of whom are first-generation college students in their families.
"For the students, it's the 'Aha!' moment where they can make the decisions for themselves," she said.
The event began in a Tour Zone inside the college's gym, with informational tables manned by Empower Me Tour founding sponsor Wells Fargo, Pacific Gas & Electric, The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, Richmond PAL, among others. After a short introductory program, attendees had their pick of 13 sessions. Two, held by Wells Fargo representatives, dealt with the high cost of higher education.
"We believe in being able to provide financial education to the students," said Denise Miles, vice president and national partnerships manager for Wells Fargo. "About $26,000 is what a student graduates with in terms of student debt. We want to make sure we prepare students in advance. And this event helps with that."
Other sessions were led by educators, business professionals and a small cadre of celebrities that included Grammy-nominated singers Sheila E. and Ledisi; musician and actor Fonzworth Bentley; beauty journalist Tai Beauchamp; and music executive Amir Windom, who led the internships and mentors panel.
"Coming here is a must for me, considering how much people have invested in me," Windom said. "I feel like it's only appropriate for me to do the same thing."
Windom's message to the students: "Strive to be more than successful. Be significant. Being significant means that you're interested in creating a legacy, living a life that matters and improving the quality of life for the people around you."
It was the first time the Empower Me Tour, which will visit nine cities nationwide this year, had come to the college. Tammeil Gilkerson, the school's vice president of academic and student affairs, hopes it won't be the last.
"This is a really big statement to have the UNCF Tour here showing support for this area," Gilkerson said. "I think the large turnout shows just how much our community is wanting to make sure we're making a commitment to getting our students to college."
More than 700 people preregistered for the event. Clark considered it a Saturday well spent.
"We're all going to need a little support in this day and age to get through," she said. "I got useful information I wouldn't have had otherwise."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.