Mentors can have a profound impact on a young person's life. For underserved communities in Los Angeles, connecting youth with positive role models may mean even more.
Motivating Our Students Through Experience (MOSTe), a nonprofit founded in 1991, has helped hundreds of girls become the first in their families to graduate from college.
"Every single one of these girls has the passion within them to succeed and I think MOSTe links their fire with our knowledge on how to go there," Executive Director Alejandra Valenzuela said.
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Starting in middle school, girls are paired with volunteer mentors who not only get them on the college track, but also expand their lives beyond their own neighborhoods by taking them to college campuses, museums and hikes throughout Los Angeles.
"They told me it was the first time out of their house where they saw a different part of LA and I thought oh my gosh, I can't believe this is true," Valenzuela said.
High school senior Linda Khalif and mentor Christine Ferling Burrows first met when Khalif was in 7th grade.
"She's still the same young bubbly, young, incredibly enthusiastic young girl I first met," Burrows said.
What has changed for Khalif are her visions for the future and her opportunities to realize them.
"MOSTe taught me to be more self-confident in myself as a woman and Latina going into STEM," Khalif said.
MOSTe also has a college counselor on staff to guide the girls through the college application and financial aid process. Many parents have no knowledge of the process and public high school counselors are often overwhelmed.
"My high school is about 2,000 kids. There's 55 kids in my math class so the counselors are a little bit overworked," Khalif said.
She used to think community college was her only option. So far she's been accepted to nearly half a dozen four-year colleges.
It's a success story that assures Valenzuela she made the right choice to leave a career in commercial real estate to connect girls to college access.
"I am mission driven. I lead with my heart and I am so grateful for the girls I get to meet," Valenzuela said. "These girls inspire me to be a better person and they make me want to be a better role model. I love that."
MOSTe continues to provide academic and social support once the girls get into college. They also help get their careers started with resume writing and networking workshops.
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