A year ago, Roger Morales was a high school dropout with no future, except maybe a stint in jail for a burglary arrest. That was before the 18-year-old found himself at the Bresee Foundation, near his inner-city neighborhood at the border of the Koreatown and Westlake districts.
These days Morales has his high school diploma. He is studying at Glendale College and eyeing a career in medicine.
"My plans are to major in biology and go on to be a doctor," he said.
"Before, all I was hearing were the negative things in the neighborhood that make you think you're another Latino statistic. And I started acting like that. I had no hope.
"At Bresee, they showed me how to change my life, to let me see the choices I have to succeed."
The literacy and academic achievement program that Morales entered in January is a cornerstone of the Bresee Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1982 by the Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene. It is named after Dr. Phineas Franklin Bresee, a Methodist minister who founded the church in Los Angeles in 1895.
The foundation also offers health services, job training and cultural and recreational activities for more than 3,000 residents of the Koreatown, Westlake, Pico Union and Mid-Wilshire neighborhoods.
Nearly 60% of the foundation's annual $1.8-million operating budget comes from fund-raising. This year, it received $15,000 from the Los Angeles Times' Holiday Campaign. The money was spent on literacy and academics.
Nearly half of those in the foundation's service area live below the poverty line, said John Wolfkill, associate director. He said the area suffers from a 56% school dropout rate.
"Bresee is sending kids to college," Wolfkill said. "We give $500 to $1,000 scholarships, and this year we sent 20. But there are many we can't serve.... You could easily have 10 organizations like ours serving this area."
Bresee's tutoring and literacy program typically boosts students' reading levels more than a grade and a half over six to eight months, foundation leaders said.
Older students are exposed to the college experience through field trips and an annual college fair.
The foundation also holds SAT preparation workshops.
Morales said he had been referred to Bresee through a first-time offender's court program.
"I got caught for commercial burglary," he said.
"They gave me a chance to go to counseling instead of jail," he said. "I was skeptical, but I took the chance, and it's the greatest thing that could have happened to me."
The annual Times Holiday Campaign was established in 2000 and is a part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund. The McCormick Tribune Foundation matches the first $700,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar, and the foundation and The Times absorb all administrative costs.
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Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Holiday Campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986. Please do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site: www.latimes.com /holidaycampaign.
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For more information about the Holiday Campaign, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.