The 2014 Berkeley Community Fund High Hopes scholarship winners. Top row, l to r: Junming Li, Kayla Garrett, Katherine Acosta-Hernandez, Monte Metal, Merewan Jemal, Julia Maciel. 2nd row: Evangelina Sanchez, Tehan Ketema, Refugio Gonzalez, Amanda Medina, Michelle Shannon, Jake Hao Ma. 3rd row: Nuha Al Ammari, Raekwon Dallett, Priyanka Jindal, Yakira Evans, Sophia Liu, Lyheng Phey. Bottom row: Derek Spears, Suyi Zhu, Alejandra Alas, Alfonso Alonso, Nora Jang. Image: Berkeley Community Fund

The Berkeley Community Fund has granted a record number of scholarships to students from the class of 2014 at two Berkeley high schools. Twenty-three Berkeley High and Berkeley Technology Academy graduating seniors who are now college-bound will receive support to help them succeed in school and beyond.

The students, who are all in the first generation of their families to pursue a college degree, will be honored at a High Hopes scholarships awards ceremony on June 9 at the Berkeley City Club, which is open to the public (see details and register.)

Each scholar will receive $16,000, paid over four years, and important services that help them succeed in college and graduate: a volunteer mentor to help them better navigate the challenges and demands of higher education, financial literacy training, transition-to-college workshops, and support from BCF’s College Success Coordinator.

The scholars will be attending campuses of the University of California, a number of California state universities, the University of Wisconsin, and private colleges, including Barnard, New York University and Columbia.

Over 100 students participated in the High Hopes Scholarship application process this year, making it the most competitive process since BCF established the program in 2008.

Joleen Ruffin, Executive Director of the BCF, said they saw a 60 percent increase in applications this year. She puts this down to the fact word is getting out about the fund, not least from recipients who graduate and then come back into the community, and also because of the continuing need for the support.

“For all these students, there is a gap they need to fill,” she said. “Many come from low-income households. There is no money saved, no back-up plan. The students are on their own.”

Recipients are chosen based on academic potential, financial need, resiliency, leadership, and an interview with a panel of BCF board members and community volunteers. All seniors graduating from Berkeley public high schools with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or above who will be attending a 4-year college or university are eligible to apply.

“We had a terrific group of candidates this year, including a very impressive student from B-Tech who was able to complete four years of high school in just two,” said Jessica Pers, BCF board president. “A number of our applicants participated in enrichment programs while in high school while juggling jobs and family responsibilities. They are all amazing young people and our decisions weren’t easy. We are thrilled that the community has stepped up to support 23 students this year. We wish we could support even more,”

Ruffin said many of the scholars overcame astonishing hurdles.

“Some are recent immigrants who didn’t even speak English four or five years ago. Many have not had an easy journey to the United States and have been separated from their parents,” she said. “They all have incredible stories.”

Since 2008, BCF has supported 115 Berkeley public high school seniors and awarded $1.76 million in scholarships. More than 85 percent of participants in the High Hopes Scholarship Program have already earned a Bachelor’s degree or are still on track to do so.

Visit the Berkeley Community Fund online to learn how you can become a mentor for scholarship students, and connect with BCF on Facebook.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...