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The crew at ScholarMatch.

The crew at ScholarMatch.

Last week Lori and I visited 826 Valencia, which is one of our favorite organizations. The brainchild of writer and philanthropist Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia is a nonprofit writing program devoted to supporting the creative and expository writing skills of children age 6 to 18. Driven by the belief that writing skills are paramount to a child’s future success, 826 Valencia provides kids with one-on-one writing support. It also works with teachers to help them inspire their students to write. (To say that Dave Eggers is one of Isabel’s favorite people would be a gross understatement.)

Although best known for its writing programs for younger kids, 826 Valencia also offers Bay Area students help with college application and financial aid essays. It also awards a limited number of college scholarships. The problem, however, is that the need for scholarships among high-achieving but under-funded kids is far greater than the supply. Frustrated at seeing so many qualified kids unable to attend college due to a lack of financial aid, Dave launched an offshoot program in 2010 called ScholarMatch. Dedicated to helping kids attend college by connecting students with donors, ScholarMatch uses the power of the Internet to link individuals interested in investing in the academic future of promising students with high-achieving kids in need of financial support. The organization also offers free college support services both during the application process (including help filling out all those pesky forms) and after, when students are figuring which college to attend.

I like to think of ScholarMatch and the 826 Valencia college prep programs as offering an alternative to high school counselors—except these counselors aren’t burnt out and aren’t having an illicit affair with the P.E. teacher while suggesting you become an airline hostess. (Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with becoming a flight attendant!)

[Side note: The P.E. teacher and the counselor did eventually end up together and are seemingly very happy.]

Since 2010, ScholarMatch has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and helped many students and parents navigate the difficult college application waters. Thanks to its evolving program, a great staff and a stable of trained volunteers, ScholarMatch has some pretty impressive statistics:

•   60.5 percent of ScholarMatch students live in a family whose annual income is less than $25,000.

•   93 percent of ScholarMatch students will be the first in their family to attend college.

•   79 percent of ScholarMatch students attend four-year institutions.

•   100 percent of the students overcome incredible challenges and are dedicated to pursuing higher education.

ScholarMatch is currently limited to college-bound students living in the Bay Area, but the organization plans to expand the program nationally in the future.

We try not to get all teary eyed when visiting sites we support but we couldn’t help it this time around. ScholarMatch is doing really great work, and if you’d like to help out, here is the donation page. You can also learn more about 826 Valencia at here.

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