As the school year starts, seniors are beginning the process of applying to college. On top of all the essays students must write to apply, Mountain View High graduate Ana Sofía Garay said she remembers having to write scholarship applications as well.

But she didn’t do it alone. Now a sophomore at USC, Garay received help from Mountain View High’s Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which works closely with MVLA Scholars to provide college mentors, scholarship opportunities and internships to low-income, first-generation juniors and seniors in the district.

“MVLA Scholars has been a great supportive system for me with the mentorship,” Garay said. “Since my family didn’t go to college and I’m a first-generation student, they were always there to guide me.”

Founded in 2000, MVLA Scholars was originally intended to provide financial assistance to low-income, first-generation students. The money went from the program to the school and then to the student.

The program shifted its focus approximately eight years ago when it became part of Los Altos Community Foundation and found itself under the direction of Dee Gibson and Janet Tornow. Since then, the program – which is completely volunteer run – has expanded and now provides scholarships and mentoring. According to Gibson, the program’s goal is to “change the lives of not only our scholars, but their entire family.”

One of the organization’s main focuses is the scholarship program, which supports 150 students, 33 of whom were added in 2018.

What makes the scholarship program unique, Gibson said, is that it is a yearly renewable scholarship that offers individually tailored financial aid based on need. Per student, that amounts to $2,000-$6,000 a year, she added. Additionally, the money may be used for any need related to education, such as textbooks. Gibson said the goal of the scholarship program is to ensure that students graduate debt free and are successfully incorporated into the workforce.

“I just think that we are making a difference – one person at a time,” Gibson said.

Garay has been receiving financial assistance from MVLA Scholars since graduating from Mountain View and said she has also been positively impacted by the mentorship program. Garay’s mentor assisted her in finding an internship with the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce.

Garay, who recently transferred from Cal Poly Pomona to USC, said she is grateful for all of the help she has received from MVLA Scholars and its mentors.

“They’re a supportive system,” she said. “My mentor was always there for me. Even if I texted her with a question at 2 in the morning, she would always respond to me. I’m thankful for that.”

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