It is always such an honor to have the opportunity, via my column, to focus the spotlight on local folks who give back so much to the community, and to spread the word about their worthwhile organizations.

Richmond may seem far removed from local communities, an enclave of what's perceived by many as privileged lifestyles. Yet, this west Contra Costa town, a mere 30 miles away, is constantly on the mind of Alamo resident Brad Blake, who founded the College is Real program to benefit students at Richmond High.

It was in 2005 during a North Coast Section playoff game between the number-one team, Richmond and Monte Vista High, seated at eighth place. Monte Vista ended up winning with a surprise goal, leaving the final score 1-0. The crowd was naturally surprised, and, fearing retaliation, the Monte Vista teammates and coaches huddled together tightly as they quickly and cautiously made their way to the poorly lit school parking lot. However, instead of negative feedback from the Richmond players and parents, incredibly, they instead formed a tunnel and cheered the winning Monte Vista team, wishing them luck in the next round of playoffs.


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When Brad, who at the time was coaching his daughter's soccer team, learned of the incident, he continued to think about the outstanding sportsmanship with which the Richmond residents conducted themselves. So, when it came time for the year-end awards ceremony, it was decided that instead of coaches' gifts from the players' families, they instead donated a check, totaling $2,000 to the Richmond coach, which was presented at one of their board meetings and received with tremendous gratitude. Thus, Brad thought about how he could continue helping the kids at Richmond High, and College is Real was formed with 16 members to help students realize that college isn't just a dream.

Fast-forward to today, and the program has become a huge success with more than 100 members and college students who have successfully gone on to graduate, many of them the first in their families to have done so. On April 26, CIR is holding a fundraiser at Round Hill Country Club in Alamo with the theme, "The Great Gatsby," which promises to be a fun evening, while bringing awareness to the CIR program, which mentors Richmond teens and helps with the college application process, including scholarships and much more.

You can learn more about CIR and register for the event, by visiting their website, www.collegeisreal.org. The fun evening is $115 per person, $1,000 for a table of 10 or $850 for a table of eight. The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception, followed by dinner and a live auction at 7 p.m. and lots of dancing to the DJ-spinning tunes.

Leslie Blake is chairing this year's event, and she told me she appreciates the wonderful committee members from Alamo and Danville working on the event. "Thank you to a stellar committee of dedicated members who are a very smart and creative group of women," Blake said.

They committee members are: Amanda Hartzer, Carole Carluccio, Michele Tomalenas, Paula Wallin, Vicki Hess, Sharon Meyer, Laura Hulburd, Tracy Griggs, Lindsey Goehring, Betty Brandt, Ev Mathews, Kari Penland and Karen Pero. Brad is also grateful for his equally dedicated CIR board members: Bob Telles, Jim Hulburd, David Millstein and Greg Chabolla. In an email, Brad talked about the CIR mission and the effect the program has had on Richmond students.

"College is Real has achieved great success in helping low-income, minority students at Richmond High become motivated to attend, qualify for, gain admittance to and be able to pay for a four-year college. The last two years we have had a 100 percent success rate in getting our seniors accepted to four-year colleges. We have CIR students at almost every UC and many CSUs and some private colleges. We now have over 100 graduates with more than 90 percent attending college.

"We have also had several of our former members graduate from college. Without the funds raised at our annual fundraiser and the guidance of our mentors, most of whom are from the Alamo-Danville area, many of these kids would never be able to attend college and ultimately change the lives of their families. I am extremely grateful for the support our local community has shown for CIR," wrote Brad.

Contact Caterina Mellinger at around- alamo@hotmail.com.