It’s that time of year again: college applications are due. 

Remember how stressful applying to college was? Now imagine what it must feel like for Los Angeles’s vulnerable students during a pandemic. This year, United Way went virtual with our annual college essay writing workshop for the students who comprise our Young Civic Leaders Program (YCLP). Volunteer mentors, trained in advance, helped students tell their unique stories in a compelling—and competitive—way.

“The training session before connecting with the students flowed well with an extensive amount of guides, handouts, and other third party links to provide us the ability to actually add some value,” said AJ Harris, Vice President, Accounting and Finance & Controller of the Los Angeles Lakers.

AJ’s student Mary Jo is a senior at Linda E Marquez High School. She was at square one in her process with only three of four required responses selected for her UC application. AJ acted as a sounding board and helped her arrange her experiences and feelings into organized and viable responses. 

“We used that momentum and energy to quickly select her final response and I think it was her best one yet,’ said AJ. “ Even in our limited session, I was able to help her record and organize her thoughts to a point where she was excited and confident to complete the remainder of responses. I’m happy I could play a small part in that journey.” 

AJ helped Mary Jo feel comfortable enough to share her personal experiences and build up her ideas. “This ultimately made me more motivated to finish my college applications,” said Mary Jo about AJ. “He was also really understanding and patient with me which I truly appreciated! “

As in many mentor-mentee relationships, wisdom didn’t only flow in one direction. “Different generations can learn from each other.  Events like these help bridge the divide by encouraging dialogue and understanding” said James Jacquet, a volunteer from Kaiser Permanente.

Maria, a senior at Downtown Magnet High School and a participant in YCLP for four years, said her experience with the workshop was very productive and helpful. “I got great feedback on how to improve my personal statements,” she said, adding that it was a great relief to get help from someone who was once in her place.

With COVID-19 forcing us to find a new normal with home and school life being difficult, United Way recognizes that our students need support and encouragement  to further their education now more than ever. We are proud to be a resource to the students of Greater Los Angeles.