Upward Bound student Ileen Huerta (left) and Upward Bound camp counselors sophomore Lexi Heredia and senior Geoff Hamilton hang out and surf the Internet during the group pizza night.
After serving students in Yamhill County for more than 40 years, Linfield College Upward Bound is facing its final year as a result of losing federal funding.
The program, which falls under a branch of the Johnson Administration’s TRIO initiative, aims to help students who come from first generation, low-income families to graduate from high school and college.
Currently, the year-long program is funded to assist 65 students from Yamhill County, said Greg Mitchell, director of Upward Bound.
It is split into two parts: school-year and summer programs. During the summer program, there are about 50 students.
All summer students live in dorms on Linfield’s campus Monday through Friday and attend about four classes throughout the week that count for high school credit.
They also partake in recreational activities and field trips. Earlier this summer, the group visited a landfill outside of town so students could learn about recycling, said Linfield senior Geoff Hamilton, a tutor and counselor for the program.
The defunding has taken many by surprise.
“It is just devastating, a complete shock,” said Nic Miles, a counselor for the program. “I never saw it coming. It means a lot of closed doors for students.”
Miles works with recently graduated high school students to help them transition into college.
A former Upward Bound student himself, the Linfield College senior said he knows firsthand the benefits of the program.
“The feeling of having so many people behind you, encouraging you to achieve your goals, makes you feel invincible,” Miles said.
Upward Bound offers weekly tutoring sessions in all high school subjects.
It also helps high school seniors through its Bridge Program, which assists students with college applications, resume building and seeking scholarships.
In addition, the program covers college application fees.
For 18-year-old Kelsey Stephens, the program not only paid for her application fees, but her SATs and ACTs as well.
Stephens, a graduate of Amity High School, has been with the program for four years. Her older sister was also a member.
She will attend Portland State University in the fall with hopes of studying mass communication.
Stephens qualified for the program because she comes from a low-income family. Her father has been unemployed for about a year and a half, she said.
Upward Bound also helped with the down payment for Stephens to live in the campus dorms.
“It’s helped out tremendously,” she said. “I honestly don’t know if I would have gotten into college without Upward Bound.
“Upward Bound has changed my life, dramatically. It helped me come out of my shell and build relationships with people that I never had. It made all the difference,” Stephens added.
Stephens’ roommate, 18-year-old Quanah Burchell, agreed.
A Yamhill-Carlton High School graduate, Burchell said she had grown a lot since joining the program. She is more outgoing and not afraid to get up in front of people.
Like Stephens, Burchell learned of the program from an older sibling.
“Through the program I have learned teamwork, leadership, time management and more,” Burchell said. “It’s been an amazing experience.”
Before Upward Bound, Burchell was failing most of her classes, she said. Her grades and study skills improved in the program, and she will soon be attending the Oregon Institute of Technology to study medical imaging technology.
Life skills have been a focus of the program along with academic achievement.
To 18-year-old Isaac Gutierrez, the most valuable part of the program has been that it pushed him to his limits and helped him realize what he is capable of accomplishing.
“It made college a reality. It was always a dream of mine,” he said.
Gutierrez, who graduated from McMinnville High School, will be attending Seattle Pacific University in the fall. He plans on majoring in business management with a minor in marketing.
“[The program] makes you feel like you can take on the world,” Gutierrez said. “And they expect great things from you. I’m really glad I could be a part of this family.”
Family is a topic that comes up a lot when talking about the program. Most students agreed that Upward Bound is a second family.
For 15-year-old Angel Nunez, there is no distinction.
Several of Nunez’s older siblings went through the program. In fact, the day he was born, an Upward Bound staff member brought his sister, Carmen, to the hospital.
“The program means a lot to me. It’s been with me my whole life, and to see it go, it’s like losing a loved one,” Nunez said. “What saddens me the most is that other families won’t have it.
“It really bums me out that I won’t get the full experience like my siblings had,” he added.
Mitchell said that because there is less funding for programs like Upward Bound nationally, it has become much more competitive. Linfield College Upward Bound just did not score high enough to make the ranks of the funded programs.
“The government looks at a variety of criteria,” Mitchell said. “In the past, it has scored things differently. We used the previous grant as the model, which had a perfect score.”
This time around, Linfield College Upward Bound scored the equivalent of a B or A-. It needed an A, he said.
There will be six programs left in Oregon after this grant cycle, which ends Sept. 1, 2013.
“The college has been fairly supportive. It recognizes a need for it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell has been working with a grant writer to try to apply for Upward Bound Math and Science, he said.
Right now, Upward Bound’s grant is $342,000. The new program grant would be $250,000 and would account for five less students.
“We are waiting to see how the math and science grant works out,” Mitchell said.
In the meantime, students, counselors and directors have reached out to state government through letter writing.
A representative from Rep. Suzanne Bonamici’s office paid a visit to the group. They have also met with representatives from Sen. Ron Wyden’s office.
“The representatives didn’t know what [the program] was about,” Mitchell said. “This population doesn’t get heard. How do you make enough noise to be heard through the mass of other lobbyists?”
Although the future of the program is uncertain, students and staff alike are choosing to focus on the positives.
On Saturday, Upward Bound will graduate about 11 students from its program. Each student will receive a certificate of completion and will have the opportunity to speak.
The ceremony is taking place at 7 p.m. in Ford Hall at Linfield College. Following the graduation, there will be a slide show of photos from the summer and a brief awards ceremony.
Upward Bound’s ceremony sometimes means more to some students than graduating from high school.
This rang true for 22-year-old Jackie Rojas. Rojas went through the program prior to attending Linfield.
She said that it was a good feeling having her parents see her get her diploma. However, it was an even better feeling when she graduated from Upward Bound. She was almost in tears when she gave her speech, she said.
“In the last two years I have seen some changes in students that are so profound that I don’t know where they would be without the program. They rely on the program for support,” Hamilton said. “The difference not just in academics, but personality wise is tremendous. You see them transform.”
Jessica Prokop can be reached at