The Be A Leader Foundation provides positive learning environments to help elementary and high school students prepare for college. Melissa Trujillo, Executive Director, talks about the foundation’s programs.
Jose Cardenas: The "Be a Leader" foundation was created to prepare and focus students to be successful in college. The organization emphasizes developing self confidence and building trust to make value-based decisions. Joining me is Melissa Trujillo, cofounder and executive director of the be a leader foundation. Welcome to "Horizonte."
Melissa Trujillo: Thank you for having me.
Jose Cardenas: Tell us about how the organization was started.
Melissa Trujillo: We started the foundation in 2002 --
Jose Cardenas: the we being you and your husband Gary?
Melissa Trujillo: That's right. We had been mentoring students on our own for about 15 years, and we finally wanted to do something a little more formal, so we began the foundation in 2002, and we started actually doing programming in the Roosevelt school district for seventh and eighth graders in 2004. With the goal being to teach them leadership scholarships and to build their self confidence, and also to increase their awareness about college and to get them on a college focus track.
Jose Cardenas: I know that part of the motivation for doing this was your own personal experience. Yours and Gary's, you overcame some adversity and became successful business people in your own right. It's probably not something you talk about easily, but give us a flavor for that experience and how it led to your desire to want top support other kids.
Melissa Trujillo: Both Gary and I are first-time college graduates in each of our families. We both struggled to get there. Gary grew up here in south Phoenix, attended the Roosevelt school district, which is why we're so passionate about starting in that district. I had similar circumstances in a single parent home growing up in New York. And it was just -- we were both grew up until loving families, but didn't necessarily have the guidance we needed to get to college. So we were basically told if we were going to, go we needed to get there on our own. So we know about the struggles about wanting to go to college, wanting to further your education, and really having nowhere to turn to to get advice, to receive guidance, so it's become a real passion for Gary and I, a family mission, if you would say, to really strive to increase the number of college graduates here in Arizona.
Jose Cardenas: And so the be a leader foundation, through its programs, provides guidance that you two didn't V how does it do that? Give USA description of the program contents.
Melissa Trujillo: Like I said, we have seventh and eighth grade programs, and now we have -- we're in our second year of the high school program based out of Phoenix union high school district. And we do a series of monthly workshops, which includes all types of activities, all with a college focus. In other words, we will do a workshop on how to write a personal statement. Which was essential in filling out scholarship applications and college applications. We do a whole workshop on --
Jose Cardenas: And this is smug would be covering with the seventh graders?
Melissa Trujillo: This is primarily the eighth -- high school students. The seventh and eighth graders we teach them more about being civic leaders, how to build their own resume, we start them with a resume the very first day, to basically for them to envision their future with college being part of that future.
Jose Cardenas: I want to talk about the walk-a-thon, because we've been showing pictures of it, and come back to more specifics of the program. This was the first time you did the walk-a-thon, is that right?
Melissa Trujillo: We did. The event was called taking steps toward college success, and we had out September 27th of this year, and it was a wonderful event. Basically to increase awareness throughout the state about college. About putting our students on the college track at an early age. We do walks for wonderful causes, and we were thinking, well, isn't it just so basic to walk for college? So we were hoping to get about 300 students and families out there and we ended up with over 2,000. So it was a wonderful event. We had a college access resource fair, the beginning of the day, which lasted about two hours at the park. And then we began our walk from the Margaret Park to the convention center, where the college fair was being held, which had over 200 colleges and universities in attendance. So our students were able to get resources about college, and then were actually able to talk to actual college admission counselors.
Jose Cardenas: These were kids who are not directly involved in the Be a Leader foundation program?
Melissa Trujillo: It was open to anybody, and the public, obviously most of our students were there, and their families. But we -- it was free to anybody in the public. So we just put the word out and we had a great response.
Jose Cardenas: How many students do you currently have in the program?
Melissa Trujillo: We have about 400 students right now, between our middle school and our high school program. And it's growing daily.
Jose Cardenas: And how do you measure success? I know you haven't been at that it long, but at this point in time, can you point to any measurable successes?
Melissa Trujillo: We have been able to get our students into other wonderful programs like the Ace program, the Arizona ivy league program, valley teen leadership program. These are all other types of organizations that build a student's resume and their awareness about college and leadership. Our first students that started with us since seventh grade are now only juniors in high school, so -- but the real success will be attending all of the college graduations for all of our students. And we're really looking forward to that.
Jose Cardenas: Has hit an impact in reducing, do you think, the Hispanic drop-out rate?
Melissa Trujillo: I certainly hope so. I would think so. It's a college bound network, where students are around other students that want to go to college, and it's their primary focus, and we have grown strictly because of word of mouth. So that to me says that we're making a difference, and these students are excited about their futures.
Jose Cardenas: Melissa Trujillo, executive director and cofounder of Be a Leader foundation. Thanks for joining us.
Melissa Trujillo: Thank you.
Melissa Trujillo:Executive Director of the Be A Leader Foundation;