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A Close-Up Look At People Who Matter : A Partnership Makes College a Possibility

August 08, 1996|ED BOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

During a casual conversation at a cocktail party, Kathleen Maloney mentioned an issue that was troubling her.

Maloney, executive director of the College of the Canyons Foundation, was concerned because few eligible Santa Clarita-area students were taking advantage of available scholarship money.

Listening to her was Brad Spahr, a college trustee who also serves as a board member for the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club.

Spahr mentioned that many teenagers at the Boys & Girls Club might be eligible for those scholarships--but few think college is possible for them.

That was when Spahr's wife, Candy, suggested a partnership between the college and the club.

Two and a half years later, that idea has become a reality.

The College of the Canyons Foundation, working with the Boys & Girls Club, has created Early Start at the college, a program that provides scholarships and other forms of assistance to at-risk youth. The new program, which already has raised $17,000 in scholarship funds, recently won a Community Partnership Award from The Times' Valley Edition.

Four students entering College of the Canyons--all members of the Boys & Girls Club--each will receive a $2,000 scholarship.

Amy Blankenship, 17, of Santa Clarita now receives the kind of support and encouragement that she did not have in previous years.

"My counselor in grade school told me I was going to be a loser in life," Blankenship said. But that prediction only strengthened her determination to fulfill her childhood dream of attending college, she said.

The scholarship and other assistance will make it easier for Freddie Torres, 18, to keep a promise to his mother that he would graduate from college.

"She didn't want for me to have to suffer like she did," said Torres, whose mother cleans houses for a living.

Although since the third grade Torres has wanted to attend college, he had not expected to enroll immediately after high school. He thought he would have to work to earn the money to pay for school first, as many of his friends have done.

But the Early Start program is designed to ease the students' transition into college life. Students can use the scholarship for books, tuition, food and even occasional minor car repairs.

"It's part of our philosophy that this college's population should reflect the community as a whole," Maloney said. "We just want to open these doors for them."

Glenn Hisayasu, College of the Canyons dean who served on an interviewing committee for the scholarships, said any reservations about the applicants quickly melted away.

"The obstacles they had faced were very dramatic," he said. "Their families and themselves had really come a long way to get to where they were. . . . They were very mature students in terms of their determination and motivation to go to school."

Spahr, who also sat on that interviewing committee, was equally touched by the students' personal stories. "There was one woman who had every excuse to feel sorry for herself," Spahr said, recalling an applicant who was orphaned, had a history of gang activity and also was hearing-impaired. "But she was determined to make something of herself, and she got this opportunity."

Now that he has seen the results of that casual cocktail party discussion, Spahr has only one question. "It was such a good idea, and such a good match of resources, I felt, 'Geez, why hadn't anyone even thought about this before?' " he said.

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