Reality Changers helps provide a safe haven for at-risk students to study and change their lives, but that all changed when COVID-19 hit and forced the non-profit to close its doors, impacting hundreds of students it serves.
Students like 18-year-old Ariana Bermudez: Walk a mile in her shoes through the Logan Heights neighborhood where she lived until she was 13 and you'll see the obstacles she’s overcome as the daughter of teenage parents.
“I would sometimes wake up to loud noises which I eventually learned were actually gunshots… I actually saw some drugs being sold in alleys… My parents didn't go to college. My parents were in gangs. My parents suffered with substance abuse and I fell to Reality Changers," Bermudez said.
Since 9th grade, Reality Changers has helped change the Patrick Henry High School graduate's reality, along with hundreds of other students across San Diego County.
“It helped me develop a sense of identity where I was no longer really ashamed of my roots, but more like, 'Wow! There are more people like me and, you know, we can do it.'"
Reality Changers' “College Town” program has helped 8th to 11th graders, some with GPAs as low as 0.0 become college bound kids with scholarships.
Roughly 19,000 of its students have gone on of to college over about 19 years.
Once a week, 250 students are fed, tutored and mentored, sometimes by their fellow Reality Changers.
"So we really rely on positive peer pressure and peer relationships to say 'Hey, you all can tell each other what's cool and we can redefine cool together," explained Senior Director of Programs, Jordan Harrison.
When the pandemic hit, the students’ safe haven was forced to shutdown temporarily. Thanks to an NBC Universal Project Innovation grant, Reality Changers was able to go virtual and retain staff to check on students and help keep them on track.
“We’re so very grateful for you all believing in us,” CEO Tamara Craver said. “We’re really going to be focusing more in depth on those 8th graders. We understand that there's such a need out there and we want to increase the number of 8th graders we're serving."
Bermudez remains on track, ready to change her family’s reality as a mechanical engineer major at Arizona State University.
“I wanted to change the chain in my family where it’s high school, work, high school, work. I have two younger siblings and cousins, I want to pave the way by showing them we can do it," she said.
Reality Changers has helped graduate 29 Gates Scholars.
In addition to their College Town program, they have a program that helps hundreds of high school seniors through the college application process and an alumni program to help support program graduates.