In November, our founder graduated from Executive Service Corps' Executive Director Leadership Institute, a 12-month program designed to enhance the knowledge and expand the network of nonprofit leaders in Southern California. Throughout this journey, Richard was paired with a coach, Al Lavery, who supported him through special projects relating to board development, fundraising, and personal growth. One of the reasons Richard launched PLUS ME was because he never felt that he had a positive male role model growing up and to realize that he gained one from this experience was truly an emotional moment for him at graduation.
Al has been a volunteer with ESC for 9 years and loves participating in the EDLI program as a coach. "It’s been an enjoyable and rewarding experience for me this year because of the professionalism, relaxed atmosphere, and Richard’s commitment to developing the organization. I was absolutely impressed with all Richard and PLUS ME has accomplished in such a short period of time. To start this organization with little knowledge of the sector and zero funding and to get it to where it is today is inspiring. It was great to see the mission in action and I'm excited to see where the organization goes in the next few years."
Although the program has come to an end, Richard and Al plan to stay connected and support each other on their future endeavors. PLUS ME would like to thank ESC, Al, and Sunair Children's Foundation for sponsoring a portion of Richard's tuition for the program.
Earlier this month, PLUS ME attended Starfish Impact's Top 5 #SupportingOurSector awards ceremony in Santa Monica. Our executive director, Richard, shared our story and mission with an audience of philanthropic donors and the fellow Top 5 nonprofits. We were thrilled to walk away with 2nd Place and the Judge's Award of $4,000.
PLUS ME would like to thank Starfish Impact and all the sponsors who supported this initiative. We also would like to thank each and every person who nominated and voted for us throughout this journey!
We are thrilled to announce the launch
of our new Annual Giving campaign.
Here is a story sharing the impact of our work and how your gift will help:
One of the 19,000 students with whom we connected this past school year was a senior named Andrea. Like many highly talented, first generation college students, she felt University of California (UC) schools were not within her reach. Based on a misbelief that she did not have anything good to say about her life, Andrea was discouraged from applying.
“In 350 words or less, 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?” (Excerpt from UC Application)
More often than not questions like this present challenges for students who have a sense of social inadequacy. This question is 1 of 4 that students must answer when applying to any of the UC campuses.
Through our Storytellers PLUS ME program we learned a lot about Andrea. She is a bright young woman who achieved a 3.8 GPA in high school. She has two younger sisters who look up to her and loves serving as a positive example to them. Andrea balanced her academics while being the captain of her volleyball team and working a part-time job, at a local coffee shop, to help her family pay some bills. With the help of our program, she realized how unique her story is and how many challenges she overcame to get to where she is now. Working with her guidance counselor, we even encouraged her to take on the UC application.
Today, we are proud to share that Andrea is currently a 1st year at UC Riverside and is pursuing a degree in psychology. While we cannot take credit for Andrea’s admittance to UCR, we know our program was an instrumental piece of the college application puzzle for her.
This holiday season we want to take a moment to THANK YOU, our current and past donors, for your support of our mission. Your help has enabled us to impact thousands of lower income students in Southern California. We also want to welcome YOU to the PLUS ME family if you are not a donor yet.
Whether you are already a supporter or have yet to become part of our inspired community of annual donors, we hope you will make a year-end gift. We are energized to expand our impact and invite you to join our family. Please consider making a contribution through our new giving circles with a donation that is meaningful to you. To encourage your support we have designed a flexible program with different levels and a monthly giving option.
Your generous gift will support thousands of students like Andrea each year, helping them develop and articulate their personal story into their college application!
Last Wednesday, I visited Belmont High School to observe our Guest Speakers PLUS ME program. It was my first time at a PLUS ME event and throughout the first few weeks of my internship, I had only discussed the tasks pertaining to my position as a community outreach intern. Up until that point, I had only heard about the organization’s goals and tasks, but never got to witness them.
As a former staff member of Belmont, I worked with A World Fit For Kids as a coach in their after school program. The scenery was familiar walking through the main building seeing the various murals featuring college and university logos, inspirational quotes, and famous activists. I felt like I was back home seeing all the smiles from the students and staff. As we were waiting to access the presentation room, an odd feeling fell over me. One that I had not felt since my first few days at A World Fit for Kids. “I’m nervous and I'm not even the one presenting,” I muttered to Richard. But why was I nervous? Now that I look back at this moment, I realize this was when PLUS ME was finally coming to life for me.
PLUS ME’s vision and mission resonated with me since I first heard about it. Now that I was at a school with Richard, I knew it was real. As I listened to Richard’s story, what struck me the most was how the students reacted. At the beginning, some of them were, unsurprisingly, not fully focused on the presentation. I could hear some discussing their day, others checking their phones, and a few pointing out how happy they were to be at the presentation because that meant they weren’t in class. However, as the presentation continued, phones were put away, conversations ended, and all eyes and ears were on Richard. Some laughed, others nodded their heads, but most were too focused to show any other nonverbal cue. In that moment, I realized that I was at the right place, with the right people, serving the right organization.
Entering PLUS ME’s retreat this past Saturday, I was nervous once again. This time, I didn’t tell anyone. As I mingled with the many amazing individuals who work selflessly to provide a light for the students we serve, I truly felt the passion, commitment, and realness of this team. The retreat brought together the bright minds of the many who support the organization and made me realize that even as an intern, I too will make a difference. As the evening progressed, I felt that I was no longer in the background, I was an active player in the forefront on this team.
Jose Navarijo is a senior at California State University, Northridge majoring in communications. He is serving as our community outreach intern for Fall 2017 and hopes to one day share his story with a group of students.
It was June 21, 2011, at the Hollywood Bowl. I wore a red choir robe as I sat on the stage looking out into the crowd. The sun was burning my face and I had never been so ready to go. All of a sudden I heard my name coming from the podium speaker, “Jasmine Gibson”, said Principal Hagan. At that moment, I knew my hand would no longer be held, I was officially a high school graduate. The feeling of excitement, optimism and fear came rushing through my body at once. It was a bittersweet moment.
I never thought I was smart enough or capable of earning a college degree. I mean I thought about it, I imagined it, but it was only a dream that felt distant. I decided to give that distant dream a chance.
I enrolled at West Los Angeles College (WLAC) in August 2011. This was my only option because no university was going to accept me with my high school grade point average. Enrolling in college was a big step for me.
I come from a background where higher education isn’t discussed nor attempted. I thought maybe I would eventually drop out of community college because that is what I have seen in my surroundings. Little did I know WLAC would be the pathway to my success, the foundation of my future and the beginning of a new me.
Community college was a strengths test. It built my mental muscle and my perseverance to succeed. I was welcomed by helpful advisors and administrators who helped me navigate through the system, and most importantly, motivated me with assuring words. I was able to earn an associate degree and transfer to a university. After accomplishing what I thought was the impossible, I felt there was nothing I could not do. The world was mine to take.
I transferred to Cal State University, Dominguez Hills. Throughout the first few weeks of being at the university I thought to myself, “what am I doing here?” “what am I to do?” “I made it to a university?”. These were thoughts of disbelief because I was so conditioned in my negative thinking about my capabilities. As the semester progressed my mind began to expand. Expand with knowledge and new ways of thinking. I became innovative, I learned that I am a creative individual and my voice matters.
Sure, these may be things we think to ourselves but college asks that you find yourself, your voice and express it. Now that I am in my final semester of college I look back to 2011 where I first began my journey, and I am thankful for every step of the way. I have become strong, confident and professional through the help of professors, advisors, workshops and my fellow classmates. In high school, they tell you your hand will no longer be held, but what they don’t tell you is, there are people who are on your side pushing you to the finish line.
Jasmine Gibson is a few months away from earning her bachelor's degree in communications. She is serving as our outreach intern throughout the Fall semester.
We are excited to bring two leaders to our team this Fall!
Jose Navarijo is a senior at California State University, Northridge majoring in communication studies. He attended Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, California and has resided there for many years. He has worked in the education field for the past four years as a tutor and as a supplemental instructor at Leuzinger High School, Belmont High School, and California State University, Dominguez Hills. His experiences with helping students from underrepresented communities coupled with the vision of The PLUS ME Project made it a true match in his mind to join the organization as an intern.
Jasmine Gibson is a senior at California State University, Dominguez Hills majoring in communications with a focus on public relations and advertising. She has always had a love for writing and helping others. The PLUS ME Project is the perfect organization for Jasmine to exercise her skills and thrive in her passion. She believes in the mission of PLUS ME and is ready to increase awareness in SoCal school districts. After graduation, she plans on becoming a substitute teacher while pursuing her master’s degree in school counseling. She hopes to have a career as a high school guidance counselor to inspire and express the importance of higher education to at risk youth and first generation college students.
Both Jose and Jasmine will support our outreach and communication initiatives throughout the Fall semester by contacting schools, writing blog posts, updating our social media accounts, and supporting the launch of two new initiatives!
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!