Within the inner city of Los Angeles, high school students who dream of pursuing a college degree face unique challenges. Often presented with socioeconomic hurdles, those students with great potential often lose hope and do not enroll in higher education.
Each year, Pepperdine University's Volunteer Center offers those students an opportunity to attend PepReach, a one-week residential summer program designed to mentor and support aspiring Los Angeles high school students. Participants experience college life firsthand and gain valuable advice from college professionals who offer insight on the challenges and process of applying to a university.
Living the Pepperdine mission of service and leadership, all of the mentors and counselors are Pepperdine students who volunteer their own time to serve the needs of the visiting students. One of those volunteers for this year's PepReach program was GSEP student Peter Epes who served as a PepReach counselor, working with the students as well as managing the mentors. Epes, who is currently pursuing his master's in psychology at GSEP, considers the experience to be exactly in line with his future plans to serve as a psychologist and work with youth.
"I was surprised to see the level of desire that the students had to pursue higher education and truly succeed," says Epes. "One of my mentees, Ramiro, lost his father when he was five and he moved from Mexico to the United States with his mother shortly thereafter. From talking with him, I learned about Ramiro's fast success in education since coming here, his love of business, and his sincerity and commitment to pursue college. All of the students had unique aspirations and the qualities to reach their goals if they take what they learned in PepReach and apply themselves."
At one of the many planned activities, which ranged from trips to the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles to financial aid training sessions, the students listen as Kathie Kieran-Johnson, director of Career Services, talks about the qualities of a leader and what professional endeavors each student wants to pursue. "I want to be a brain surgeon," says ninth-grader Charles, who goes on to explain the high school work he is doing to achieve that goal. "I want to be a medical assistant," says fourteen-year-old Emma, who smiles to hear Kieran-Johnson say it is a growing field and a good choice for someone with an aptitude for science. "Remember this," says Kieran- Johnson, "Leadership is the thrill of service, not the rush of power."
"There is no dollar amount, no value, that can be placed on being able to play a part in the life of a young person," says Epes. "It is an invaluable experience to have the opportunity to influence, mentor, counsel, encourage, and challenge a youth and to help them with their education goals, life skills, and spiritual growth."