9 LTSC Youth Group Members Will Be First Generation College Students
Find the news about the college admissions scandal disheartening? These students are earning their way into college with heart, hard work and support from LTSC.
Alexis of LTSC’s Angelina Apartments will attend UC Merced in the fall.
On a Friday evening in April, 17-year-old Gaby is beaming. She sits with four other high school seniors and two youth group program coordinators around a plastic folding table in the community room of the Angelina Apartments complex.
Angelina is an affordable housing community of Little Tokyo Service Center located in the Temple-Beaudry area of Echo Park, about two miles north of downtown LA.
The topic of discussion for the youth group is college applications. After months of anticipation, the students have begun to hear back from prospective schools.
Gaby is a natural leader, who’s been involved in student leadership through the Associated Student Body all four of her years at the Downtown Business Magnet High School. Nurturing and mature beyond her years, she’s often seen walking around the complex with her younger sister, a bobbing second-grader, close behind.
When it’s her turn, Gaby tells the group she received an acceptance letter from Agnes Scott, a highly respected liberal arts college for women in Decatur, Georgia. The school is offering to cover the bulk of Gaby’s tuition.
Gaby cast her net wide, applying to 25 colleges earlier in the year. So far, she’s been accepted to 17 of them.
“There are not a lot of resources in the community. They don’t have the same access to programs close to home and LTSC tries to address that.”
-NANCY ALCARAZ, LTSC Resident Services Director
Gaby isn’t the only member of the group with good news. Katone plans to attend LA City College for two years before transferring to UCLA. Her sights are set on studying biology and becoming an OBGYN. Alexis will enroll at UC Merced and study aerospace engineering. Gabriel wants to start learning a trade, while enrolling at a community college for engineering.
Four students from nearby neighborhoods, who participate in the group, are also college bound.
All nine of the high school seniors in the youth group will be first generation college students.
The success of the Angelina Apartments students is a bright spot for a neighborhood that‘s witnessed its share of tragedy in recent years. In 2009, a gang member’s stray bullet struck and killed a 4-year-old boy as he walked to a park with his family — just a few hundred feet from Angelina. Two years earlier, a 9-year-old girl was killed by gang crossfire as she stood in her home’s kitchen.
It’s not unusual for students to see gang members hanging around their middle and high schools, looking for new recruits. Drug use in the neighborhood is prevalent.
Gaby (front left) and other youth group members attend a leadership conference organized by NeighborWorks.
Understandably, many parents try to keep their kids indoors, as far as possible from the threats that lurk outside. Within the gated confines of Angelina Apartments, though, LTSC seeks to bring kids out, engage them and put them on a path to a better future.
Under LTSC’s model, lower income individuals and families not only find an affordable place to live, they are also given access to a slew of programs to help them enjoy stable, healthy lives and reach their potential.
Many of these programs are designed to assist youth.
“There are not a lot of resources in the community,” says LTSC Resident Services Director Nancy Alcaraz. “They don’t have the same access to programs close to home and LTSC tries to address that.”
LTSC’s Youth Group was started over five years ago to create a safe space for teenagers to socialize, talk through issues and receive guidance from LTSC staff.
“They wanted a space where they felt comfortable enough to learn from their peers, share their experiences, and provide each other the support needed to—in their words—‘make it through high school,’” explains Alcaraz.
Nancy Alcaraz addresses the Youth Group.
“The group has provided a safe place for the youth to grow and develop their self-identities; it has encouraged them to be supportive of one another and celebrate successes, be empathetic,” adds LTSC Neighborhood Services Coordinator Gilda Hernandez.
Over time, the focus of the group has shifted to leadership development and community engagement. The teens have coordinated activities, from cleanups, to canned food drives and fall festivals as a way to get their families and neighbors more involved in the community.
LTSC has coordinated leadership development trainings for the youth as well as taken them to youth summits and other events.
“Some of the students are working through personal issues of feeling worthy, self-image issues and not having the support they need to excel,” explains Alcaraz. “A lot of these kids’ parents work two jobs or get home from work late at night, after the kids are in bed, all to ensure that they can continue to provide shelter and food for their family. The kids understand, but they’re well aware of their parent’s absence.”
This past fall, The Whitney Young Children’s Foundation generously provided the Youth Group a grant for college prep workshops. LTSC formed a partnership with Dr. Cynthia Colón, author of the book “Tips, Tales, & Truths for Teens,” which offers a practical road map for students applying to colleges.
Youth group members clean up damage from Hurricane Harvey for a family in Houston, Texas.
Dr. Colón conducted a series of workshops for the group that focused on writing personal statements, filling out application paperwork and applying for financial aid.
One of the biggest benefits for group members, though, has been bonding with peers and finding a support network. “The young students at Angelina likely see themselves as family,” says Alcaraz. “They’ve grown up together.”
When one of the teens, Christian, came down with a serious stomach condition that kept him in and out of the hospital for two years, fellow students and LTSC staff had his back. They arranged to pick up his assignments from teachers and offered encouragement.
Through his exceptional perseverance, Christian will graduate this year—on time. He has also been accepted to California State University Long Beach, where he plans to study engineering.
“I’m very proud of these students,” said Alcaraz. “Over the years, we’ve celebrated and shed tears together. I’m beyond excited to see them embark on this new journey and know they will continue to work hard in order to make their dreams a reality.”