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Fulfillment Fund helps at-risk youth get to college

Juliana D. Norwood | 8/24/2011, 5 p.m.

As a college access organization, the Fulfillment Fund provides low-income students with the support necessary to graduate from high school and go on to college. Through classroom instruction, college counseling, mentoring and scholarships, the organization transforms the lives of students, beginning in high school and extending through college graduation.

The idea for the organization was born in 1973 when Gary Gitnick, M.D., a doctor at UCLA Medical Center, convinced his staff to sponsor an end-of-the-year holiday party for children with disabilities. The annual party then branched out into a nonprofit in 1977 and focused on the needs of young children and teenagers with disabilities. In addition to the annual holiday party, a career day and leadership camp challenged a growing number of young people to rise above their disabilities and set high goals for themselves and their education.

The Fulfillment Fund broadened its mission once again in the mid-1980s to include able-bodied but often overlooked students, and started to provide college scholarships and motivational events. Young students were encouraged to stay in school and pursue a college education by adults matched with them for the day. These role model-student pairs often stayed in touch throughout the year.

In the 1990s, the Fulfillment Fund began to focus efforts on ensuring high school graduation and access to and completion of a college education, targeting disadvantaged youth. Fulfillment Fund programs have continued to evolve and adapt to changing needs and rising challenges in the community.

Today, the Fulfillment Fund is a college-access organization working closely with partners in the schools and the community to make lasting changes. Fulfillment Fund students graduate high school at a rate of 85 percent, and of those who graduate, 91 percent go on to college.

Four programs work together for the success of the Fulfillment Fund, including the College Access Program, where advisers meet with high school students to help them transition from middle school to high school. High school students (9th-12th grades) receive classroom-based curriculum focused on five themes: high school graduation, self-advocacy and empowerment, practical life skills, college readiness and college planning. The Mentor Program offers extensive training, support, and workshops to student-mentor teams, and closely case-manages the mentoring relationship. The College Scholarship Program offers financial support to students who meet rigorous academic and need-based criteria in the form of renewable college scholarships, transfer scholarships, and textbook stipends. Lastly is the Internship Program where students who received Fulfillment Fund scholarships receive lesson on business etiquette and job skills training.

The staff provides the young people with a list of potential internship opportunities with companies that they partner with, and if hired, students receive a paid summer internship.

The Fulfillment Fund, will hold its STARS 2011 Benefit Gala on Nov. 1 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and proceeds benefit the organization and its programs. The gala is also an opportunity to formally thank the sponsors and supporters that continue to keep the program flourishing.

"Our organization is so fortunate to have such extraordinary and dedicated supporters who have demonstrated a long-standing commitment as role models for civic involvement and at-risk youth," said Andrea Cockrum, CEO of the Fulfillment Fund. "Their vision, generosity and devotion enable us to provide the skills and tools to help promising students from high-poverty neighborhoods achieve their dreams and succeed academically and personally."

For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (310) 201-5033 or visit www.fulfillment.org.

The Fulfillment Fund thrives on the support and donations of members of the community. For those who are interested in donating, becoming a sponsor, or becoming a mentor to at-risk youth, visit the organization's website for instructions.