Lauren Hall started helping with the 826 Valencia college scholarship program in 2005, two years after the first scholarship had been awarded. When the first scholarship was awarded to Chinaka Hodge, a rising young student in the Mission community, the funds for her scholarship were raised as a present of Irving Hawkman and his wife Florence, retirees who were integral to helping build 826 Valencia. When Hall started working with the fledgling program, there was a pool of 25 applicants for the scholarships. Now there are over 100 applicants. Former 826 scholars participate on the panel of advisors who help to choose the new scholarship winners.
A social justice major from Hendrix college in Arkansas, before moving to San Francisco, Hall worked at a summer camp in Arkansas that helped build leadership skills for young girls in nature. “It was a very eye opening and amazing experience for me. The little girls that participated in the camp; their lives changed through the experience. They built confidence through just being outside.” Hall decided to try life in a big city and join some of her friends already living in San Francisco, “Community is really important to me and since I already had all of these friends living out here, I decided to give it a try.” Almost immediately after moving, Hall found a place at 826 Valencia: “About two weeks after I was here I walked through the door of the pirate store. I was very excited because the space was equally beautiful and aesthetically special and I could also see that there were kids inside and that they were having fun and they had books and stuff and there was just an energy about it. So I asked what was going on and applied for an internship and I’ve been working here in some capacity ever since.”
When Hall started working with the scholarship program she remembers that it was, “pretty informal. It was just a group of people who would make a call for applications.” Since then, the way in which applicants are chosen is much more strategic. “The 826 Valencia scholarship has become about supporting students on their path to college who are missing resources. It’s meant to be an opportunity for kids who might not have the means to pay for a college counselor or maybe they are the first in their families to go to college so they don’t have that support from their parents to try to get there. It’s the students who could possibly fall through the cracks of the system; you want to be that bridge and help those kids get access.”
Although Hall has now handed the scholarship program to Christina Perry, something that will always stay with her are the stories that students tell through their applications. “Reading their stories is an experience. Everyone on the staff, including people that don’t work directly in programs, read some of the scholarship applications. The stories really open your eyes to a young person’s reality that might be very different from your own reality. As you walk the streets of the neighborhood you have these tangible stories with you about what life is like for a young person in San Francisco, in the public school system. The application makes that bridge across class, resources, economic status and age. Kids are sharing these really personal stories that change something for the reader.” Hall’s belief in public purpose work came from these stories and her belief that, “There’s a certain innocence to youth and I believe that every young person should feel hope about their future and feel like they can accomplish whatever they set out to.”
Perry-like Hall-has a deep-seated commitment to social justice. Since graduating from Harvard where she studied Social Anthropology, Christina Perry has spent most of her time involved with different education programs. She credits her parents, both advocates of different minority groups, for her natural pull towards public purpose work. Perry feels that, “Since I have been given so much, the best possible thing that I could do with my skills and my passion is to give to others.” After doing volunteer work in school Perry applied to Teach for America and was accepted into the core in Los Angeles as a special education teacher. She taught there as a resource specialist for two years and then moved back to her hometown of San Francisco and taught at Everett Middle school, again as a special ed teacher. After five years at Everett, Perry was looking for something different but still related to education when she saw an opening as a programs director at 826. The job has led her to working closely with 826’s partner schools such as Buena Vista Horace Mann Middle School, Mission High and Everett Middle School.
Perry’s involvement with the scholarship program began when she took on managing the personal statement weekend at 826, a weekend when 150 to 200 students come in to get free help with their college essays. Perry was also on the board of the scholarship program, helping to pick applicants who receive the scholarships. Perry has mixed emotions regarding her experience as a board member. For her it was an amazing but also heartbreaking experience. “It’s mind-blowing how many talented hard-working resilient students have been through our programs and it’s been a really amazing experience for me to get to read their personal narratives.”
Perry will transition to leading the scholarship program this spring, a transition that seems natural as a lot of the students who get help on their personal statements also end up applying for the scholarships. One of the goals that Perry has for the program going forwards is to implement more objective scoring for choosing applicants. She also wants to offer eight scholarships, a bump up from the previous six scholarships offered. When asked what inspires her to work in the scholarship program, Perry responded, “It’s the idea that we have this opportunity to invest in people and give them that vote of confidence and financial support as they are embarking on a very difficult transition. It feels like not enough, but I do think it’s meaningful and I think the awards dinner and the ceremony around it is a very powerful event.”
Postscript: I am writing this series of articles, “On Arts” for the Lick-Wilmerding Hyphen as my 11th grade Public Purpose Project. In many ways, these articles are a continuation of my 10th grade PPP, which was to volunteer at the non-profit organization 826 Valencia as a creative writing tutor for students in the third, fourth and fifth grades at the Buena Vista Horace Mann Middle School in the Mission District. (See the article about my experience with 826 Valencia here.) My intention is to assist with fundraising for 826 Valencia by writing about the City Arts & Lectures “On Arts” benefit series as well as explore how organizations and individuals in different vocations engage in public purpose work throughout their lives. I think it is important for Lick-Wilmerding students to see how the public purpose work we are doing as part of our educational process can continue, no matter what career and path we choose as adults.