Local education nonprofit held its annual college day to help local high school seniors prepare for college.
By Leonardo Romero
La Habra Journal
The local nonprofit organization Advance! held it’s 12th annual La Habra Goes To College event on Sunday at the La Habra Community Center. This year’s schedule began with a continental breakfast and a meet and greet with 18 different college representatives followed by a welcome address from Advance! co-founder Fred Lentz and La Habra councilwoman and Advance board member Rose Espinoza.
Those in attendance were able to sit through a presentation discussing college systems, financial aid information, and GPA significance. The event also held a parent/student panel and ended with an opportunity drawing where a few lucky students and parents went home with college related prizes such as a backpack filled with school supplies.
The community center was initially set up with 350 chairs for attendees, but according to Lentz an additional 105 chairs were added into the room because of the incredible turnout rate.
During Advance’s first year in operation the staff assisted 51 students with admission and FAFSA applications, and 13 years later Lentz proudly stated that last year they helped over 820 students.
According to UCI campus representative Daniel McInnis, the high number of middle school and freshman / sophomore high school students surprised him since he’s used to seeing mostly high school seniors at college fairs.
His approach to helping students learn more about UCI begins by asking them what major they’re most interested in pursuing and then providing them with information on that specific major along with general information about UCI and it’s applicant requirements.
The board of directors decided to not have any college representatives at last year’s La Habra Goes To College event, because they noticed that the attendees were congregating by the representatives most of the time and missing the important information from the presentations. This year they decided to have both features, but made sure to schedule time throughout the presentations for students to meet with the representatives.
La Habra resident and La Habra High School junior, Toni Rodriguez, attended this year’s event and was intrigued by Berkley and UCI’s law program after she made her round through each college booth.
“I learned a lot about FAFSA, because I didn’t really know anything about it,” said Rodriguez.
Advance volunteer and Cal State Fullerton senior, Luis Matos, came from a low-income family in Puerto Rico and decided to come to California in 2006 to attain a college degree in order to assist families that face similar situations he endured.
He volunteers his spare time with Advance because he understands just how confusing and frustrating college applications can be, and he wants to apply his experience to help lost students find their way.
“The purpose of this event is for students to explore their options, and to implement it in their head that there are steps that need to be taken to get to college and we can help you individually with those steps when you come into our office,” said Matos.
Since 2005, Advance has awarded over $150,000 in scholarships to local students, and has always provided their services free of charge. Advance!’s office is open Tuesday through Thursday from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. and located in La Habra at 501 S. Idaho St. in Suite 230.
According to Advance’s treasurer Habib Captan, the office is only open during the afternoon because it allows for students and parents to come in after school or work.
“A lot of people don’t know how much financial aid there is available out there or that the way to college is not as difficult as they think,” said Captan. “We make sure to make it simple for them.”