By: Stephanie Calderon, Engagement Manager
In 2016, Fulfillment Fund’s school staff started getting a new request from their students: to create an enrichment program for young women where they could learn about other women’s experiences as they navigated higher education and started their careers – especially when those careers were in fields were women are often under–represented. I could relate to their need for knowledge and as a new Fulfillment Fund college access advisor, I was inspired to help make their vision a reality.
With a women-led committee of Fulfillment Fund teammates, our first enrichment group for young women was planned, developed, and piloted. Today, this group is known as the Resilient, Empowered, Ambitious Ladies (REAL) program.
Now in its second full year, REAL’s mission is to empower and inspire our young ladies of color to strive for their dreams, while acknowledging the distinct barriers they face as women of color seeking a higher education. In our meetings we discuss the social, cultural, and personal experiences that young women face both as prospective college applicants,college students and professionals. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that our students are not only prepared to overcome adversity, but to persist in their academic and professional endeavors. It’s amazing to see how much this program has grown. During its pilot year, REAL had a total of 66 participants across the Fulfillment Fund’s five partner schools. Now, the program has grown to over 130 participants in five partner schools, as well as students from our mentor program, making it our largest Fulfillment Fund enrichment program to date.
The structure is simple but packed with powerful curriculum. REAL sessions take place after school during the spring semester of each academic year, and students from every Fulfillment Fund partner high school make their way to our Wilshire Boulevard office. There, young women engage in two hour long sessions with Fulfillment Fund mentors, alumnae, staff, and community members. They learn about the educational trajectories of other women, as well as about how to create goals and plans for their own academic and professional endeavors. This year, we added “REAL Talk” to the program sessions, which allows students and staff to demystify common misconceptions and concerns students have about attending college. At the end of each year, we recognize our graduating seniors in a culmination ceremony where they share which college they will be attending in the fall and receive a Fulfillment Fund graduation sash from their counselor or advisor.
REAL continues to be a place where young women can be unapologetic about their identities, experiences, and dreams. As Fulfillment Fund staff, we strive to foster an environment of growth and possibility for our students and inspire them through meaningful programming – and as a result, students feel more empowered, confident, and prepared to enter college.
Stephanie Calderon is the Engagement Manager at the Fulfillment Fund. In this role she focuses on developing the Fulfillment Fund’s student and parent enrichment programs: Lead, Empower Achieve Dream (LEAD), Men Creating Change (MCC), Resilient, Empowered, Ambitious Ladies (REAL), UCLA STEM, and the Fulfillment Fund Parent Program. She is invested in the growth and success of the students and families she works with and wants to ensure that students from underrepresented backgrounds have the tools to access and persist in higher education. Stephanie is a graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.A. in Gender Studies, and a Minor in Education Studies. She is currently working towards her Master’s degree in Social and Cultural Analysis of Education at CSU, Long Beach.