Do you remember how difficult it was writing your college personal statement? If you never had to write one, imagine answering this question when you were 17:
Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
This is just 1 of the 8 questions featured on the University of California (UC) application and each applicant must answer 4 of these 8 questions - each in under 350 words.
It's intimidating for many students - especially those who are looking to become the first in their family to attend college. Many students struggle with the personal narrative component of the college application process and some even choose not to apply because of this.
We are here to help!
Our Storytellers PLUS ME program is currently in high demand from low-income schools because many educators realize the value our program provides to students as they embark on their college personal statement journey. Unfortunately, many of these interested schools do not have the funds or resources available to bring our program to their site.
One of our goals this year is to help solve this problem by asking YOU to help in the funding of these programs. By making a recurring monthly or one-time donation to our campaign, we will be able to bring our program to more high school seniors this Fall to help them develop their personal narratives for their college personal statements.
Make a difference in the life of a future college student by clicking 'COUNT ME IN' below.
Today, July 31st, marks our 4th official birthday!
Here are 4 fun facts to celebrate:
1. Our first board meeting was in August 2013 with 6 members - all educators.
2. Our first presentation was at Hale MS in Woodland Hills in November 2013.
3. We have presented in 5 states (CA, NV, AZ, MD, VA).
4. 80% of our presenter team are first gen college graduates.
Thank you for being part of our journey and we look forward to celebrating more with you in the future.
In July, we had our first opportunity to share our mission with students and adults on the East Coast. We completed a 3-Day Storytellers PLUS program with the Youth Advisory Board students from After School All Stars (ASAS) in Washington D.C. These students represented the 19 cities ASAS supports including Houston, Honolulu, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Throughout this program, we supported their middle school students with developing and sharing parts of their own stories with each other.
After we completed our work in Washington, we visited Dent Education and worked with their summer cohort of entrepreneur youth in Baltimore, Maryland. Our founder, Richard, had the opportunity to share his journey on how he launched PLUS ME with these students.
As we near the end of our summer programming, we look forward to bringing our mission to more students throughout the country next summer!
June 30th marked the end of our fiscal year. Wondering what we did?
Check out our 2016 - 2017 impact report.
In the spring of 2013, while I was frantically trying to finish up my master’s degree and administrative credential program, I received a call from Richard, my former teacher’s aide. He wanted to start up his own nonprofit organization based on this 10,000 PLUS project that he had begun a couple of years earlier and he wanted me to help him. Without really knowing what I was getting myself into, I agreed.
“Helping” quickly became “being board president”. The job came with a steep learning curve and at times I wasn't sure how to balance this role with my other roles at home and at work. However, in the end I gained much more than I ever gave: I met many interesting people from all different walks of life; I honed my leadership skills; and most importantly I gained the satisfaction of being part of an organization that inspires thousands of students each year.
It has been such an honor to serve as board president for the last four years. During my tenure I have seen the PLUS ME project grow from one program with one presenter to an organization that now offers four different programs with multiple presenters and volunteers. I am so proud of the work that our team has done under Richard’s dynamic leadership. As I step down from the board and into my new role as a volunteer, I look forward to seeing the PLUS ME project continue to grow and expand--inspiring more students here in Southern California and beyond….maybe even in Brazil!
- Vivian Chen, Founding Board President ('13 - '17)
My name is Sally Melchor and I was born and raised in Koreatown with my younger sister. Both my parents are from Puebla, Mexico and they met here in the U.S. I attend the Los Angeles High School of the Arts at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools and am involved in several extracurricular activities inside and outside my school.
When I started working with the PLUS ME project, I was in a mentor summit provided by GEAR UP 4 LA at Occidental College. I’ll be honest, that day, working with Jessica from PLUS ME changed the way I view my life. Usually, when someone would ask me to tell them something interesting about myself I, a typical teen, would respond with “There’s nothing interesting to tell you” or just “I don’t know”, but PLUS ME changed that. Now I'm able to tell people my accomplishments and what I find cool about my life - even if it's not. It helped me understand my story and literally get my life together. During the program I was able to listen and understand other people’s personal stories which allowed me to connect with them in an emotionally significant way. The experience was so memorable that I was inspired to mention the program to the administrators at Heart of Los Angeles. HOLA offers tutoring services and college prep courses to students and I knew HOLA would be intrigued by PLUS ME. The second time I worked with PLUS ME Project was actually through HOLA with Marlene and Richard. What I absolutely love about PLUS ME is that it has the same effect on everyone; we are all able to connect and get to know each other well.
For years I wondered who I would become and what I would make out of that person. Now, because of PLUS ME, I have found interest in psychology and human resources. This program has helped many, myself included, discover who they are and what story they have, because as the PLUS ME project says “our stories matter”.
Earlier this month, our founder Richard Reyes was featured in one of KPCC's Unheard LA Live storytelling shows. He shared a 9-minute version of the story he shares with students with over 300 guests in Hollywood. His narrative begins at the 9 minute mark.
We are at the BOOST (Best-Out-Of-School-Time) Conference in Palm Springs, CA for our second year and we look forward to hosting a brand new workshop today.
Here are 4 key points Richard will share with workshop guests:
We are proud to release our Motivational March 2017 Campaign Calendar. Throughout the month, we will visit 31 schools and motivate thousands of students throughout Los Angeles!
We are hiring!
The PLUS ME Project is dedicated to helping students reach their potential by sharing personal narratives from relatable role models and showing students that they too can succeed under challenging circumstances. As a PLUS ME Champion, you would share your personal experiences and story to thousands of middle and high school students in the greater LA area. Since 2013, we have trained over 10 Champions who have inspired over 30,000 students from over 100 schools throughout Southern California. We currently have volunteer and paid Champion positions available on our team. If you are interested in joining the PLUS ME Champion team and empowering future leaders, please see the detailed job description and application attached.
“Life is about making an impact, not making an income.”
– Kevin Kruse
Our founder, Richard Reyes, is a living example of someone who has passionately pursued his calling in life – inspiring students through sharing personal narratives.
While earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in Critical Theory/Social Justice from Occidental College, he discovered the power of storytelling. He launched the 10,000 PLUS Project and set out on a journey to inspire 10,000 or more students by sharing with them his road to college.
Throughout his senior year at Oxy, he visited over 70 schools and impacted almost 13,000 students – successfully completing his project. After graduation, Richard secured a job in the private sector and retired the project. He no longer was visiting schools and sharing his story with classrooms full of students.
A few short months into his new job, he realized his work was not fulfilling him. He wondered what his passion was and thought about what he enjoyed doing the most. Then it clicked.
He researched opportunities online where he could make money sharing his story. After an hour of research, he realized there were not any companies hiring people to visit schools and share their stories. This was the moment he told himself, “If the job is not available, I will create it!”
In July 2013, Richard decided to take the leap. After learning the step-by-step process of starting a non-profit from Nonprofit for Dummies, he launched The PLUS ME Project. Without any seed funding, he took a grassroots approach and attempted to grow the organization.
After facing dozens of hurdles in the first year of operation, Richard decided he would leave his job, pursue another post-secondary degree, and work on expanding PLUS ME. After earning his Master of Arts degree in Education from California State University, Los Angeles in December 2014, he committed himself full-time to fulfilling the mission of our project.
To date, Richard and his team have visited over 100 schools and have impacted over 30,000 students through inspirational storytelling.
Follow your passion. Pursue your dreams.
Giving Tuesday connects diverse groups of people, communities, and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving. Held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Giving Tuesday is designed for you to give a little to a cause you truly believe in.
Throughout the holiday season, we will be encouraging our supporters to give to PLUS ME. In honor of reaching our 100th school last month, we have set a goal to reach 100 donors by the end of the year.
Share the love this season and help us inspire thousands of students throughout 2017 by making a pledge of any amount below.
Our Storytellers PLUS ME program is one of my favorite programs to facilitate with PLUS ME because of the consistently surprising and transformative results we see. On any given presentation day the students file into the classrooms on their cell phones, laughing with each other in their small, carefully selected cliques. They sit in dispersed fashion and often have very little idea about what they are about to engage in with Storytellers.
I introduce myself and the Storytellers program and we begin our discussion on how to talk about our personal experiences in a safe way. If I told the students what they would be sharing by the end of the class, they would mostly say, ‘No way! Not me,’ and possibly walk out of the classroom at that point. This is precisely why I love this work. A real transformation takes place from the beginning to the end of these workshops.
Individuals are shifted and more centered in some very important and healing ways. There is an adjustment from a highly defensive posture to a softened and more open way of presenting oneself, as well as a willingness to connect and support one another.
I am always so heartened and astonished when I watch students take a step to share their personal story, to lay themselves bare and vulnerable in front of their peers with sometimes just a small anecdote from their life. What unfolds is so much more than they expect. They, for often the first time, own a challenge in their life, allow this challenge to be witnessed by many, and then the magic happens, they are well received. They are listened to, honored, and are exposed to a space where they can be exactly who they are in that moment. Who they are is an unapologetically open person who has been compromised, experienced great loss, encountered abuse, or any other number of personal tragedies most of us experience but feel we must tuck away in order to be seen as sufficient, competent, strong, or acceptable.
What we as a society have backwards, Storytellers gets right. As adults we are often so busy tailoring our story to our selected audiences, be it co-workers, family and friends, or partners. We do this so we can get our needs met and to be deserving of love. The unexpected truth is this: it is our honest stories and tales of our struggles that draw people in and bring us the support and connection we truly long for and desire.
To watch these young students get an opportunity to be seen by others for life experiences they thought would make them less than or unloveable is a remarkable and moving event each time. They receive support and validation and see how connection truly works.
How does connection truly work? When we reveal the truth of our situations and who we are, we also reveal the place in us where others can connect with us. And shockingly this moving and transformative experience of being open and receiving quality support from peers is only part of what Storytellers does.
Never before have I worked with a program that accomplishes so much with such simplicity. This very modest and clear formula creates a vast and multi-dimensional impact. The first dimension is the personal. The students get a chance to introspect and to be asked questions about themselves, their successes and challenges and other life events. This is a rare time where the student is able to look at his or her life in a safe space with no demands put on them and their perspective is validated. As the students begin to share parts of their stories they realize something deeply comforting, “I am not the only one.” The students come to see they aren’t alone in facing struggles and quite often someone in the class is going through the same thing. This invariably builds up the students and inspires hope in them.
This sharing leads to the second dimension Storytellers accomplishes, the interpersonal. The students are able (through the willingness to accept the vulnerability of sharing their story) to connect and relate to their peers in the classroom. Bonds are built, and in addition to realizing they aren’t alone in the struggle, the students often find they have a new friend or two in their network. The program introduces the idea of a social network that can be a source of support and compassion. We encourage students to stay in touch with the people in the class and support one another as a new network.
Finally we reach a third dimension, professional. Storytellers offers the transformative experience of having control over one’s life narrative. An empowering shift occurs starting from ‘this happened to me’ to ‘I survived this challenge because of my qualities and strengths.’ This new perspective sets students up for a powerful ‘can do’ attitude in their lives. Students are able to then have an empowered story they can tell the world when applying for work, grants/scholarships, or college applications.
Which leads us to one of the most practical applications of the Storytellers program. At the completion of the Storytellers workshop students have created a comprehensive portfolio of challenging events in their lives, personal strengths that got them through, and lessons learned. They have now accessed the content they need to write their personal statements for their college applications.
As Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” By the end of our Storytellers seminar the students better understand their personal power and the power contained in their peer network. They are set on the path to live their highest potential with their greatest assets, themselves and the strength of their story.
Please reach out to the PLUS ME project for opportunities for the students in your life!
Jessica Campain is a presenter with the PLUS ME project. She has a passion for working with groups while facilitating people in self-exploration, connection, and empowerment.
This month we conducted our first volunteer run Guest Speakers PLUS ME program at South El Monte High School and Sal Castro Middle School. We brought four inspiring successful adults from the film/media/marketing fields to inspire over 200 students. Here are some thoughts from these volunteers about the journey.
"It was such a fulfilling experience to be able to give back to the students in a way that I wish others did for me as a kid. Being in those rooms made me realize how important it is for these kids to have good role models to inspire them. These students inspired me just as much, if not more, than I feel I inspired them. What the PLUS ME project is doing is AMAZING! Every school should be integrated with their program."
"We were asked to share our stories and inspire the next generation, but in return we walked out of these schools just as inspired. It truly meant a lot to see kids stick around after the presentation to engage with us and talk about their dreams!"
Erika De La Cruz
"One of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Greatness begins and ends for me with who else I can make great."
Want to volunteer to share YOUR story?