Volunteers help low-income students in school
Gabe Granillo, a freshman open-option major, strides along campus carrying an attitude he gained from a program that motivated him to do whatever it takes to get to college.
Granillo is an illustration of an attitude that Eugene Lang hoped to instill among high school students in low-income areas when he founded a program that he named after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The “I Have a Dream” Foundation was founded in 1981 when Lang vowed to provide full college scholarships to a class of sixth-graders in East Harlem on one condition: they graduate from high school. Since then, the foundation has opened chapters all over the nation, with Boulder’s branch becoming the 133rd institution in 1990.
The foundation provides services to low-income students of Boulder County. Services include offering adult and college student mentors and providing Christmas gifts every year. The staff is mostly comprised of volunteers, many of whom are CU students.
Granillo, who was a “dreamer,” or a student participant in the program, is now tutoring and mentoring kids of his own.
“School’s been tough, but I’m thinking of going into the business school,” Granillo said. “The one thing that definitely motivated me was the help: the tutoring, the mentors, the motivation, everything. They even took us on field trips, helped us with computers. There was no holding me back after that.”
The expected high school graduation rate for Lang’s first group of “dreamers” was 25 percent. However, the actual graduation rate for that class turned out to be 75 percent.
However, while Granillo is a mark of the foundation’s success, the program still deals with a perpetual need for more staff and volunteers, as well as basic publicity.
“We can try to increase our awareness in the community, but it just seems like it’s such a large campus, with so many resources, that we don’t know which ones to tap,” said Lori Canova, CEO of Boulder’s “I Have a Dream” chapter.
“We try to hold events, like a yearly luncheon, a golf tournament, fundraisers, and things like that, as well as trying to hold presentations in different classes related to community service, like Spanish or education. But with students, it’s difficult to have a constant supply, because the turnover rate is so rapid,” Canova said.
Regardless of the difficulties, she said she was still optimistic about the participation rates the foundation does see.
“We still get about 200 volunteers on an annual basis, and while that’s not the greatest, it’s sure not the worst,” Canova said.
Monteith Mitchell, a former volunteer for the foundation and CU’s director of internal communications, mentioned another area of trouble.
She said that even when people know of the foundation, many are skeptic when hearing of low-income housing and families in Boulder.
“People think that Boulder is all rich college students and prosperous families, but it’s not. Most people are surprised to find that that are public housing situations in Boulder,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also said that the recent change to state university admission standards has made the struggle for impoverished students to reach college more difficult. The change involved demanding more rigorous requirements in high school curriculums.
“There are definitely inequities among high schools. Some high schools don’t have the same opportunities of curriculum as others, but that’s something I think needs to be solved on both the state and local levels,” Mitchell said. “It’s not necessarily the state’s fault.”
When Granillo was asked about the admission changes, he merely shook his head with a smile and shrugged off the question.
“Nah, that stuff doesn’t really matter. If you want it and have enough help, nothing can hold you back,” he said.