On Thursday, April 19, Aim High hosted its first ever East Bay Benefit. More than 150 donors, educators, trustees, alumni and their families gathered to commemorate 18 years of Aim High in Oakland and celebrate our upcoming campus launch in Richmond this summer.

The East Bay Benefit honored two remarkable Aim High alumni, James Harris and Paloma Garcia; longtime trustee Steve Davenport; and visionary educator Jill Johnson. The event featured our Curiosity Lab, which brings the Aim High classroom to life, and also raised enough funds to welcome 32 East Bay students to the program this summer. Thank to everyone who made our East Bay Benefit possible. 

We invite you to relish in the magic of the evening by checking out some photos and reading the inspiring speech of our Youth of the Year, Paloma Garcia.  

2017 Aim High Graduate
2018 Youth of the Year

I am a product of my family’s sacrifice to make a better life for the next generation.

I’ll never forget the date February 10, 2011. That morning I was getting ready for school when my dad kissed me and said ‘goodbye.’ Tears were rolling down his face. I didn’t understand why he was crying. He said he had to go to Mexico to see if he could get his papers. I didn’t know how long he’d be gone. I was so sad. I didn’t know the next time I’d see him.  My mom hugged me and said we needed to be strong for dad. And for ourselves.

When I was growing up, I’d experienced a lot of fear: Fear of my family leaving, fear of not being understood, fear of being judged for who I am. When I finally saw my dad four months later, I felt so happy. But I also knew that it was not a rare story, but something that happens all the time.

My mom has always reminded me to take care of myself and to be strong no matter what challenges came my way. My parents have always prioritized education because they want my brother and I to have the opportunities they didn’t.

This is where my Aim High story begins. 

My mom enrolled my brother and I in Aim High. I was resistant. “I don’t want to go to summer school!” I’d say. I never liked school, and I was afraid to meet new people.

When I was younger, I was shy and avoided experiences that pushed me outside my comfort zone. I didn’t want to engage with people I didn’t know because I was scared of what they might think about me.  Growing up, I had always been expressive and creative, but I was afraid to share that with others. I didn’t want them to judge me. 

But my mom insisted that I make an effort and try out a program she felt would be good for me. So I started Aim High the summer before sixth grade. It’s hard to believe that was four years ago.

A lot has changed since then. I have changed.

After the first day of Aim High, I loved it!  Aim High was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Even on the very first day, my teachers made me feel like I was part of something greater. They listened to me. They encouraged me to take risks, and accepted me for who I am. Many of my teachers had attended Aim High as students, so they knew where I was coming from. They had gone through similar life experiences. They knew how to support me. I felt understood and respected. I learned how to let loose and be myself. I knew I belonged. 

Another part about Aim High I’ll never forget is the dancing. Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved dancing. As a Latina, it’s always been a part of my life. At Aim High, I was offered the opportunity to continue exploring this passion. I quickly became more serious about it. I learned about different styles of dance, and I got better at showing my true self through movement.  One of my dance teachers, Ms. Brenda, made it really fun. She saw something in me that I hadn’t seen. She allowed me to realize that I could excel at dancing and pursue my artistic interests. She made me feel I could do anything I set my mind to if I worked hard.

And remember how I said I didn’t like school? At Aim High, I forgot all about that. Our lessons were hands-on and interesting. You didn’t even realize you were in the process of learning, because all of the work was fun. In science we learned about liquids and solids by making ‘oobleck.’ Aim High made learning fun, but it also made me more prepared. Because they taught me things I’d encounter in the following school year, I felt smarter and more confident.

Today I am a proud Aim High graduate and a freshman at Skyline High School. I took the confidence I gained at Aim High and brought them with me. I’m still dancing. My teachers see me as a leader and mentor, and I see that, too. Skyline has different academic tracks we can pursue, and I’ve selected the Visual and Performing Arts track so I can keep dancing. My summers at Aim High helped me discover my passion and realize what I am capable of achieving. After I finish high school, I will go to college where I’ll continue learning and expressing myself, and be the first in my family to graduate.

When my parents first came to this country, they had hopes that one day their family would have the opportunities that they didn’t have. After four summers at Aim High, and my parents’ love and support, their dreams are a reality. Thank you.

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