Chris Soto says that he first started thinking about how he could help local students when he returned to his alma mater, the , to work in the diversity office.
Through this job, Soto was able to meet several New London students and ask them what their plans were upon graduation. More often than not, they weren’t sure where to go next.
“I was really just shocked,” said Soto. “And that was what made me decide to come back here and help guide our students in what they do after high school.”
Soto, who has on the goal and recently received a master’s degree in public administration from Brown University, has officially launched the College Access Program. This aims to provide guidance to students who are first generation, low-income, or both as they pursue higher education.
Soto said that while several high school students have expressed an interest in pursuing college, they often face difficulties finding the resources to help them out. He said the guidance counselors at are under enormous pressure, with 225 students for every one counselor, and that CAP hopes to relieve some of that burden and help local students. The program touches upon areas such as financial aid, decision-making, and parental involvement.
“We have workshops, and little by little they’re getting more involved in the process,” he said.
Moreover, the program aims to continue providing support to participants until they graduate from college. Ten students are taking part in CAP this year, and Soto said he thinks the program can support up to 50 students. His goal is to add 25 students to the 10 which CAP will be able to serve, and ultimately to help send 28 graduates on to college each year.
CAP is sponsored by the and Encuentros de Esperanza, a faith-based organization based out of the church which dedicates itself to strengthening families through health, advocacy, and education. Debra Pennuto, executive director of Encuentros de Esperanza, said the two organizations “fit like a glove.”
Efrain Dominguez, who described himself as a first generation low-income person, said he had support similar to CAP when he attended . In addition to his family, an English coach helped him out with mentoring and college preparatory courses.
“That was one person,” said Dominguez. “Imagine a team, a group of people doing that.”
Robert Diaz, an 18-year-old freshman in Three Rivers Community College, said he found out about CAP through the church. He is focusing on applying for scholarships, a requirement of the program, after sending out a round of applications.
“I think it’s amazing to have this in New London,” said Diaz. “Kids in New London want to reach a higher education, but they don’t have the resources.”
Genesis Guzman, a 17-year-old Fitch High School student, said she also found out about the program through the church.
“I’m thankful for it because it helped me,” she said. “I had no idea where to start.”
For more information on the program, visit newlondoncap.org.