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El Monte is a Shining Light for Education

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Who's going to College?" Asked Nike Irvin, Vice President of Programs from the California Community Foundation. Hundreds of students joyfully yelled out "Meeeee!" Putting a smile on the large group of community members that had gathered to celebrate the launch of the Scholars Savings Program component of the El Monte Promise Foundation.

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Andre Quintero, Mayor of the City of El Monte, opened the sunny outdoor event at Arceo Park with a rousing welcome to all the elementary school kids attending the event, including those from his Alma Mater, Wright Elementary. The focus was the kids and preparing for their futures through the Scholars Savings Program and the ongoing development of a college going culture in El Monte. As Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Academic Excellence for Hispanics, stated, "El Monte is a shining example of what other communities need to do for their children."

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The El Monte Promise Foundation was founded in 2012 with the support of the California Community Foundation. It was built in response to the low number of El Monte students applying for and enrolling in college. The vision of the organization is to bring together community assets to support its children reaching their full potential, "We bring key people and organizations together so they can coordinate systems, resources, and activities to benefit El Monte students' education." The event showcased this with participation from public officials, educators, and community organizations, all contributing to build a strong foundation for the program.

The Scholars Savings Program is an opportunity for parents to become engaged in financing their children's pursuit of higher education. The Scholars Savings Program's uniqueness comes in its design, where parents make the commitment to save for their child's college by opening a college savings account. "It's about saving one or two dollars here and there, but most importantly, about sharing the message and creating dialogue within families about going to college," says El Monte Promise Foundation President Norma Edith Garcia.

Norma Edith Garcia addresses the crowd on the need to instill a desire in kids to go to college
Norma Edith Garcia addresses the crowd on the need to instill a desire in kids to go to college

Part of the El Monte Promise Foundation's labor in building a scholarship saving program was creating one that that meets the specific needs of El Monte residents. "We couldn't have a cookie cutter program. We needed something that was culturally sensitive for this community. There's no cost to sign up and we don't ask for a social security number."

Nike Irving from CCF presents a check for $500,000 to the Scholars Savings Program
Nike Irving from CCF presents a check for $500,000 to the Scholars Savings Program

The fiscal responsibility to save for college is shared by residents, in their deposits, as well as local businesses, private foundations and other contributors, through their donations. Scholarship dollars are earned as parents make their monthly deposits and are distributed when the students graduate from the El Monte Union High School District. The program also includes financial literacy education/curricula, aligned with common-core, for students in grades 1-8, as well as financial literacy workshops for parents.

By the end of the event CCF's Nike Irvin watched the elementary school students carry the event's effervescent energy with them as they trailed back onto school buses, giddily waving their pendants in the bright air. "This event is a peak moment for us as we see the children really embrace the goal of a college education. We also want them to know that college is a pit stop on an even greater journey in their lives."

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