Reaching for Their Dreams—Eight Years On

As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize Hispanic and Latino Americans’ current contributions–and current struggles–in the United States. Learn more at #HispanicHeritage Month.


By Barbara Davenport, author of Grit and Hope: A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program That Helped Them Aim for College

RealityChangers.photo.DavenportGrit and Hope tells the stories of a handful of first-gen Hispanic students who wrote their college applications in the midst of the country’s worst recession and of Reality Changers, the program that helped them get to college. Eight years on, many of Reality Changers’ graduates have chosen work that enables them to help disadvantaged youth the way that Reality Changers helped them. Here’s what three of them are doing now:

  • Theresa was named a Gates Millennium Scholar and graduated from UC Riverside. She worked as a tutor at Reality Changers, and this fall started a masters program in multicultural community counseling and social justice.
  • Mercedes left UC Riverside two quarters short of graduation, tripped up by the residuals of trauma and early deprivation. She works now as director of recreation in a skilled nursing facility. Not graduating eats at her. Her daughter Alma is nearly four years old. Mercedes wants better opportunities for herself and, even more, she wants to be a good role model for Alma. She’s saving money and laying the groundwork to go back to school and finish. Once she graduates, she wants to tutor for Reality Changers, and maybe even lead a cohort of students.
  • Jesse went to Harvard and then taught in Mexico for a year on a Fulbright teaching fellowship. Now he’s based in a San Francisco high school, serving as Dream Director for the Futures Project, helping disadvantaged students realize their dreams.

Davenport.GritAndHopeFounder Chris Yanov designed Reality Changers as a social and psychological scaffolding that would support students and provide a sense of family. “Congress is the thing that makes Reality Changers different from all other tutoring programs. We aren’t here just to raise our grades. We’re a family,” Yanov says. The sense of family was the heart of the program; it held students and was what they valued most. They could launch into the unknown waters of college secure that they had the support of peers and staff who had gone the distance with them. Reality Changers has woven through their lives, scaffolding their efforts and enlarging their sense of what was possible.

A majority of alumni continue to feel a strong connection to the program that helped them change their lives. Their alumni network helps them keep in touch and learn about new initiatives in the program. They volunteer for fundraising events. They come on program nights to talk with the current seniors; some come every week to tutor.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Reality Changers students.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Reality Changers students.

They’ve learned that Reality Changers couldn’t change their most difficult realities: not their immigration status nor illnesses, nor family problems. It couldn’t dissolve other people’s prejudices, couldn’t prevent the losses that inevitably come in the pursuit of ambitious goals. Still they call their experience in Reality Changers life-changing. It encouraged them to raise their expectations of what they believed they could do, and it opened opportunities they didn’t know existed. They all speak of their commitment to give back to their families and their community. Every one of them says that Reality Changers enabled them to transform their lives and continue to reach for their dreams.


Davenport.Barbara
Barbara Davenport
 is a writer and psychotherapist in San Diego. has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Stanford Magazine, and alternative
weeklies in San Diego, where she lives. For more about her, please visitwww.barbaradavenport.com.