October 31, 2008

Reality Changers receives major grant to prevent gang violence

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

A San Diego non-profit organization that helps students from disadvantage families make it to college has received a major grant to help prevent gang violence in minority communities in the region.

Reality Changers, an inner city program dedicated to building first-generation college students in San Diego, announced last year that it is the recipient of a $225,000 grant from The California Wellness Foundation as part of the foundation’s violence prevention program.

The grant reaffirms Reality Changers’ mission of changing inner-city students’ reality: Changing the fact that for many of these students, most of them Latinos, it’s more likely to join a gang than to go to college.

“It’s just not right that most inner-city teenagers today know more people who have been shot or killed in the street than people who are on the road to college,” said Reality Changers’ founder and executive director, Christopher Yanov. “The grant from The California Wellness Foundation will change this reality for scores of students in San Diego County by providing positive options and time-tested guidance that has ensured that all members of Reality Changers who have spent four years in the program have been accepted to four-year universities.”

The mission of Reality Changers is to provide inner-city youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with the resources to become first generation college students by supplying academic support, financial assistance, and faith-based leadership training.

Yanov began Reality Changers in 2001 with just $300. Seven years later, the program has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships for inner-city youth in San Diego.

Reality Changers has over 100 current members, ranging from 8th to12th grade and it has over 50 program graduates in college right now. Last year, the largest scholarship awardee was Ashly Solano, who received a $202,000 scholarship to attend Duke University this fall.

Yanov said that the grant will be used to strengthen the organization’s existing programs in general.

“By strengthening our operations, Reality Changers will be able to offer more of its proven programs to more inner-city students and be able to deliver these programs with the same effectiveness as always,” he said.

For Julio Marcial, a program director at The California Wellness Foundation that made the check presentation last week, Reality Changers’ mission is one that should continue.

“As a result of Reality Changers’ efforts over the past decade, less teenagers in San Diego are joining gangs and more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to college,” Marcial said.

One of the prevention programs that Reality Changers has established is the Education is Bulletproof Award (EBA), which offers scholarships to teenage siblings of gang violence. Yanov said that Reality Changers will be making more announcements on the progress of the EBA at its Annual State of the Inner-City Address, which traditionally is given a few hours before Mayor Jerry Sanders’ State of the City Address in January.

Yanov, who has degrees from the University of California, San Diego, and the University of San Diego, was appointed in 2006 by the mayor to the San Diego Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention.

The grant from The California Wellness Foundation will allow Reality Changers to continue making a difference in the lives of many Latino students in San Diego.

“As San Diego’s leader in scholarship awards for college bound students over the past three years, Reality Changers is committed now more than ever to ensuring that more inner-city youth from San Diego become first generation college students,” Yanov said.

Students interested in joining Reality Changers, can call (619) 516-2218 or visit www.realitychangers.org.

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