JOYA Scholars helps underserved youth to succeed

Carmen Aguilar and her family at her graduation.

Everyone loves a story about an underdog-turned-successful. And few are as heart warming as those of underserved youth who turn their lives around, ultimately to accomplish great things. A partner of American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) Rizpah’s Children ministry, JOYA Scholars, Fullerton, Calif., has been at the center of many of these achievement stories, including one about Carmen Aguilar.

JOYA Scholars seeks to prepare middle and high school students for higher education by offering weekly one-on-one mentoring and tutoring, SAT-preparation workshops, college tours, and a Parent Academy.

“Our students grow up a stone’s throw away from incredible higher education institutions like Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, and yet they grow up not believing those institutions are meant for them,” says Christian Esteban, executive director of JOYA Scholars. “We at JOYA Scholars simply believe in bringing in the right people, at the right time, to have the right conversations with our kids, and to this end, rewrite the narrative in their lives so that they believe those schools—and greater opportunities beyond education—belong to them.”

Struggling in mathematics and science, Aguilar was about to become a high school junior when she first encountered JOYA Scholars.

“For two years, Carmen committed to raising her grades and much more through JOYA’s programs,” says Esteban. “She surrounded herself with a team that believed in her—her mentor, tutors, SAT prep, college apps, and Parent Academy instructors—and committed herself to every experience JOYA had to offer—every mentoring and tutoring session, college campus visit and so on.”

Aguilar was among the first JOYA scholars to participate in the Reagan Student Leadership Program and the Concordia University Irvine Teen Entrepreneurship Academy. She graduated from El Dorado High School and now studies Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship at Fullerton College.

In addition, Aguilar has become a role model for her family. Aguilar’s younger brother, Francisco, is now a JOYA junior, and their older siblings, Paula and Rene, are volunteering with JOYA as mentors to middle schoolers.