Upward Scholars student Christen receives her laptop from, left to right, Janet Larson of Atherton, Upward Scholars Executive Direct Linda Prieto, and Mary Lou Schiavo of Atherton. Photo courtesy of Upward Scholars.Posted December 5, 2019
Upward Scholars offers support and hope
by Linda Prieto, executive director of Upward Scholars
When Upward Scholars alumnus Amado came to the U.S. from Mexico in 2011, he started at zero. "I couldn't communicate in English. I didn't have a job. I didn't have any experience in this country," Amado says. His first job was working as a line cook at a Mexican restaurant earning $8 an hour.
In June, Amado graduated with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and two months later began work as a project engineer at WebCore builders, a San Francisco-based general contractor.
Amado attributes much of his success to the support he received from Upward Scholars, a nonprofit that provides adult immigrants in our community the boost they need to move up the economic ladder through education and vocational support.
Soon after coming to the U.S., Amado enrolled in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at Sequoia Adult School, then started taking classes at Canada College. At that time, he also applied for a scholarship from Upward Scholars. During Amado's tenure at Canada, he received more than $2,000 in support from Upward Scholars, which paid for his textbooks as well as bus passes that covered the cost of transportation to and from college.
"When I began my journey, the people at Upward Scholars were among the first people who believed in me," Amado says. "I will always be grateful for that."
Amado is one of 824 students Upward Scholars has served since 2011. Most Upward Scholars students are immigrants who came to the United States as adults.
In addition to receiving textbooks and bus passes, many Upward Scholars students receive laptops that are critical to college success.
"Before I received my laptop, I did all of my assignments on my phone," says Christen, a recent laptop recipient who lives in Menlo Park and is taking ESL classes at Canada College. "This laptop changed my life."
The Upward Scholars laptop program receives critical technical support from Menlo Park resident Sue Kayton, who also is the coordinator of Menlo-Atherton High School's Computer Donation and Refurbish Program.
A cornerstone of Upward Scholars support is its tutoring program, in which students are paired with local volunteers who work with their students one-on-one at a time and location that is convenient to the tutor and the student. This semester, almost 80 students are working with an Upward Scholars tutor or mentor.
Menlo Park resident Deb Abel has been an Upward Scholars tutor for the past five years. "Tutoring an Upward Scholars student is a rewarding way to add real value to someone's life," Abel says. "And it's a tangible way to help students feel welcome in our country."