Dwayne Orange knows what it’s like to be a kid growing up in a Los Angeles housing project with no male role models in his life and running a little wild.
The retired Housing Authority police officer also knows that it only takes one incident or entity to change a child’s life for the good or the bad.
For the last 16 years, Orange, his wife Evelyn, and his partners, Tonie Hester, Henry Grooms, and Faye Belson-Hardin have tried to make their nonprofit scholarship foundation–Project Reach Educational Achievement Through Corroborative Help (REACH)–the sort of organization that can help turn around lives or keep them on the right path.
“In 1992, when they had the unrest, my partner (at the housing authority) and her husband, who was a big-time engineer for Rockwell, and I were talking. Rockwell wanted to do something to help rebuild Los Angeles. We said , ‘What about a scholarship program for minority at-risk youth?’ Henry took it to his managers. They liked it and asked us to write a proposal.”
The trio did, and ended up meeting with Rockwell officials.
“They decided to go with the program. Originally they wanted us to target “A” and “B” students,” recalled Orange. But the three partners thought “C” students and slightly below C students, who showed academic promise, was the right target audience. “We weren’t going to turn down the A and B students, but we were going to target the C students because if we didn’t do anything now, people were going to see them in their neighborhoods later and not as neighbors.”
Project REACH was born out of that $20,000 donation.
The first year the program began with 20 students who attended workshops every other Saturday. Orange said they learned skills such as how to take standardized tests, how to apply for a job, and how to conduct themselves during an interview. The youth also received career education information, as well as learning how to make a speech and give an oral report. Students also obtained information on what it took to get into college.
The workshops also featured minority speakers such as author Eric Jerome Dickey, Attorney Christopher Darden, as well as doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and others who came out and volunteered to speak.
“Over the years, tours of local college campuses have been added to the program, and these are conducted by alumni of the program,” Orange said. Students can join Project REACH in the ninth grade, and if they attend all the program activities can earn up to $1,000 in scholarships for each year they participate. The high school program begins in October, and there is a June graduation program. Project REACH has also added a middle school program that works with students once a month.
There is no charge to participate but students must commit their time and energy.
In its first 11 years, 228 students completed the Project REACH program, and out of that total 135 went on to college. Six of their students have earned two-year degrees, 34 have earned four-year degrees, three have master’s degrees from USC, and one of those is a doctor. “Most of them are first-generation college students,” added Orange.
“Our graduates attend U.C . Irvine, Cal State Dominguez, Cal State Northern, Howard University, UCLA, Tougaloo College, Cal State Fullerton, Michigan State, and other colleges,” Orange said.
Although Rockwell funded the program during its initial few years, now much of the money to underwrite Project REACH comes from its founders, author Eric Jerome Dickey and fundraising activities the nonprofit conducts. These include a gala dinner in June and raffle at the event and any donations that are sent.
If you want to donate to Project REACH or get more information about the program, call (818) 360-6606.