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SOY sends out a distress call

Nonprofit program that serves Westside students is facing a funding crisis, as a well-heeled donor can no longer give. Chairman vows to continue with volunteers, if they must.

March 09, 2012|By Britney Barnes
  • Guadalupe Polido, 17, center, and Katherine Desantiago, 11, bottom right, share a laugh as they spend time in the Arts and Music program at the SOY Center on the Rea Elementary School campus. The Costa Mesa-based nonprofit is in dire straits after losing most of its funding from an anonymous donor.
Guadalupe Polido, 17, center, and Katherine Desantiago,… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

No one in Juan Miguel's family had ever gone to college, but he knew he would. He just needed outside help with learning how to apply and which classes to take to get into college.

As a sophomore at Estancia High School, he joined the academic program at Save Our Youth (SOY) and received the guidance and encouragement he needed to push himself to excel and take advanced classes.

SOY even helped him financially by rewarding him for good grades, which also made him a more competitive college applicant.

"For me, getting paid money for grades made me feel good," said Miguel, now 22 and studying architectural engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "If I got a lot of money, I got better grades.

"It motivated me to take more advanced classes ... just because I wanted to get more money for college and get more college credit."

SOY was created in 1993 in response escalating gang problems at the time on Costa Mesa's Westside. Over the years the organization, which maintains a center on the Rea Elementary School campus, has evolved to steer hundreds of first-generation students toward college.

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But now the local nonprofit is scrambling to stay afloat after a longtime anonymous donor had to withdraw financial support in September, according to sources in the organization.

In response, SOY has cut deep to stay open this year, slashing nearly half of its small staff, significantly paring down its monthly financial incentive program, and halting some of its most beloved activities.

"This is a major blow because [the loss] was so much and so sudden," said Trevor Murphy, SOY's executive director. "It wasn't a gradual withdraw where we could adjust. You know you get $600,000 [one year] and the next, you get $30,000. That's a really difficult blow because you're basically going back to square one."

Those involved are still optimistic that SOY's nearly 20-year tradition of giving junior and high school students a safe place to go after school, along with the resources and incentives to graduate and go to college, won't come to an end.

Still, SOY needs to find at least $150,000 to $200,000 to keep itself running next year — at least in its current bare-bones form.

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