By Kate Daly | Special to the Almanac
Peninsula College Fund has lots to celebrate at its upcoming 10-year anniversary party.
The program has grown about tenfold based on the number of high school students participating in the Midpeninsula area.
What started in 2005 as an effort to help three low-income high school students be the first in their families to go to college has turned into a multi-tiered push to provide college scholarships for 30 students next spring and ongoing mentoring and job-search training to dozens of others.
High school teacher Charles Schmuck of Menlo Park is the founder and chairman of the nonprofit, which now serves students in nine public, charter and private schools located in Redwood City, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Woodside.
So far, out of a total of 136 participants, more than 90 percent have achieved the goal of either completing, or being on track to graduate from, a four-year college, the nonprofit says.
Mr. Schmuck says that rate is almost three times higher than the national average for low-income students who enroll in four-year colleges and finish in six years. He attributes a lot of the Peninsula College Fund's success to the one-on-one mentoring support that each student receives for four years.
As for the program's 51 students who have graduated from a four-year university, he is proud to talk about their continued success at graduate schools or working at places like Google.
"The organization has gotten so much bigger than I ever dreamed," he says, looking over the nonprofit's first decade.
Approximately 80 students apply to the program each year. Once accepted, the student is awarded $3,000 each year for four years of college. They also receive help with summer internship placements, and lessons ranging from handling finances, writing a resume and cover letter, and interviewing for a job.
The Peninsula College Fund has several people on staff but relies heavily on volunteers and donors. Some active supporters such as Mark Flegel, president and CEO of Flegel's Home Furnishings in Menlo Park, are involved to connect with the community. Others, such as board member Eric Hartwig, come from an educational background. The former principal of Menlo-Atherton High School retired as superintendent of Las Lomitas Elementary School District in 2011.
The public is invited to attend the Peninsula College Fund's 10th anniversary celebration and community breakfast at the Menlo Circus Club in Atherton from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 15. The deadline to RSVP is Oct. 7. The event is hosted by Facebook and includes NBC Bay Area News anchor Jessica Aguirre speaking about her experience growing up as a child of immigrants and seeking an education. Go to PeninsulaCollegeFund.org for more information.