Meet Olivia Ball, El Rancho Junior, Growing Forward With Grit and Grace

I have always had a responsibility to my family. I come from a household led by my single mother who has learned to provide for my siblings and me, just as a pair of parents would.

My siblings Maxine and Frank, currently 19 and 22 years of age, did not complete their academic careers. They both left high school at the age of 16, having to turn to independent studies and, soon after that, testing out of high school.

There were moments in my childhood when, financially, we were living a stable lifestyle. There was food on the table and a roof over our heads; but this was not always the case. My mother never felt the need to worry us by telling us we had barely been making rent and that her hours were being cut at work, but we sensed it. Once again, we’d fallen into a financial rut.

My mother came from a single-parent household herself, similar to our own family dynamic. My grandma raised my mother and three sons. At only 13-yrs-old, my “Nana,” as I call her, traveled from Guadalajara, Mexico to Northern California on her own. Here, she found employment as a migrant worker. Later, she settled her family here in Pico Rivera and began running her very own restaurant in Montebello.

My mother achieved a two-year education at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise (FIDM), graduating while pregnant with my older brother.

I realize my living here in Pico Rivera is partially due to the proximity in which my Nana lives to my high school. I’ve also come to realize that my mother fears the possibility that I will never leave my childhood town.

Due to my family circumstances, it was necessary for me to mature at an early age. Ever since I was a young child, I knew that college would always be the ultimate priority and that furthering my education would give me the opportunity to provide a better life for those who mean the most to me.

The ideal life for me would be giving my Nana that house of her dreams, aiding my siblings in whatever path they chose to take, and giving my mother a life in which she will never worry, work, or toil another day in her life.

Today, I constantly worry and sometimes feel afraid of anything that may get in the way of my chances of getting into college. This inspires me to be committed to my studies. I spend close to every day on campus, often up until 6 or 8 o’clock at night. Sometimes I feel that my staying so late on campus is an inconvenience for my mother, that all my work in school will be for naught, and that I won’t leave this town.

I‘m currently taking three A.P. classes here at El Rancho High School. I treasure being in as many extra-curricular activities as possible. I’m in the Advanced Drama Department, the Academic Decathlon, and in several clubs.

College seems both so far away and yet simply around the corner. My academic career is still young. My time with Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera has reassured me that I am not alone in my endeavors towards college. This organization makes me feel that when the time comes around for me to start applying to colleges, I will be accepted into a college or university, where I’ll be successful and very happy.


Program Partner Spotlight: Be A Leader, College Bound and Leadership Ready

Be A Leader Foundation’s Senior Boot Camp is another one of Generation 1st Degree’s programs aimed at helping students be college-ready. Through an intensive summer program consisting of weekly three-hour workshops for the 8-week “Summer Boot Camp, ” seniors are provided support and guidance through the college application process, personal statement guidance and college exploration opportunities by visiting multiple colleges.

This summer, over 80 seniors were invited to the Be A Leader Summer Boot Camp hosted at El Rancho High School. In addition to summer school, summer jobs, and summer internships, these seniors made the time to attend the morning or afternoon three-hour sessions, with the goal of preparing themselves to demonstrate their well-roundedness.
Each week, as part of the session, different professionals were invited to share about their profession and provide advice and assistance as students explored their career interests. Invited guests included a Spanish teacher, an Immigration Attorney, a Politician, a College Admissions Counselor, among others.

Additionally, to provide more college exploration opportunities, Be A Leader hosted two field trips in which students visited a total of six campuses. The first field trip took students to Whittier College, USC and CSULA. The second college exploration trip consisted of visiting UCI, Chapman University and CSU Fullerton. At each college, students had the opportunity of embarking on a campus tour as well as enjoying student panels and admissions presentations.

Given that Be A Leader also focuses on the leadership development of students, students were also offered the opportunity to participate in community service by volunteering with the City of Pico Rivera’s Summer Meal program. This took place at different parks throughout the city. Through community engagement, students were able to further build a solid foundation for their already well-rounded resumes.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship by Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera, this summer’s Senior Boot Camp was a great success. Students ended the summer with multiple drafts of personal statements, awareness of the four types of higher education, and an understanding of scholarships. They also came away with interests in liberal arts colleges, excitement towards exploring out-of-state options and an immense eagerness and confidence to start the application process.

“Before the workshops I thought I’m not rich, nor are my grades fantastic, so I’m going to community college, but I learned here that I can go to any college I want to as long as I work for it,” said Valerie Ann Viray, one of our proud student leaders.

Valerie’s feelings towards college were shared by many of her classmates. Their lack of awareness regarding the college admissions process and the involvement of comprehensive reviews, when looking at applications, had them feeling at a disadvantage in comparison to many of their counterparts in more affluent communities.

Through this summer program and their exposure into the world of college admissions, they were able to gain confidence as they saw themselves as more than numbers; their stories suddenly had a new meaning and their dreams and aspirations were validated.

Alma Renteria, who leads the Senior Boot Camp, shares her students’ excitement as she plans for the rest of the school year. “After a successful summer, I know the real work begins as soon as they start their senior year. We have our monthly Saturday workshops booked for the rest of the year to ensure students continue to receive guidance and understand that they are not applying alone. Their goals are now my goals and it is the most satisfying job to know that I get to be a part of helping them achieve success,” she said.

As part of their plan to reach more students, Be A Leader has also started their Be A Leader Club at El Rancho High School, which aims to recruit 9th-11th graders interested in participating in community service, college exploration days and career shadow days. Exposure has been a key focus for Be A Leader and with the club, they hope to reach more students, at an earlier time. This will help prepare them to be more competitive and well-rounded scholars, come their time to apply.

Be A Leader is excited to continue working with El Rancho and has Alma Renteria, the Project Manager, based at El Rancho’s Career Center to ensure easy access to students. Under G1D’s leadership, Be A Leader looks forward to continuing working in collaboration with the other programs offered on campus, as the foundation understands that “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Where to Look for College Scholarships

Like so many other students thinking about going to college, I too worried about the price tag that would come along with a college education. With the cost of attendance, books, housing, and transportation, the cost of college can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Many families may think it’s impossible for their child to go to college because they can’t afford it, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is money to be found for help with tuition, housing and general expenses, especially for many Hispanic students.

Aside from financial aid in the form of student loans, there are other resources available including grants, work-study programs and scholarships. The secret is knowing when and where to look, especially for scholarships.

It’s never too early to start your search. The key to finding scholarships is to do your research. Starting your search in the first two years of high school will give you a strong head start in knowing what types of scholarships are out there. Students who start too late sometimes find that they’ve missed out on significant opportunities. You want to start early and look for scholarships that are closely tailored to your academic strengths, your interests, and any extra-curricular activities that you may be involved in. You can also focus on scholarships at the specific colleges where you think you’ll be applying for admission.

There are generally two ways in which scholarships are awarded:

  • One is “Merit based,” which is based on the academic performance and talent of the student, and the other is
  • “Need based,” which is determined by household income.

An important thing to look for when doing your research is to find out what the pre-requisites are for each scholarship application. Some common requirements include submitting your resume, letters of recommendation from teachers or professionals who you’ve worked with and providing written essays. Other pre-requisites may be describing what type of extra-curricular activities you’ve been involved in and giving examples of community service that you’ve participated in.

An excellent source of scholarship information is available to you right on your own high school campus – the College and Career Center.

Make an appointment to speak with an advisor. They can tell you where to find applications for college scholarship programs and can give you both regional and local resources that are available to students in your local area and community. Organizations that offer scholarships often work together with advisors so that they stay abreast of the most current and important scholarships available.

If you’re a senior at El Rancho High School, you can check in at the College and Career Center where you’ll find one program that specifically assists high school seniors with college planning and guidance in applying to scholarships. The Be A Leader Senior Boot Camp program provides students with a detailed and easy to navigate “support system” during the scholarship and college application process.

Another great resource is attending college fairs on campus. Several colleges come out to the high school every year and give information to students and parents about the admissions requirements for attending those colleges. This is a great way to talk to people from each college and university and to make a contact with someone from those schools. You can later follow up with that contact and ask where you can find more information about scholarships for their school.

Organizations outside of campus like the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, offer events and information sessions for families as well. There, you can learn about college enrollment, financial aid, and scholarships and learn how to apply for each.

Of course, in this day and age, one of the best ways to look for scholarships is going online and using scholarship search engines like and These sites have scholarship information based on your strengths, interests and skills. Both Latino College Dollars and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund list scholarships specifically offered to Latino students. At the Hispanic Scholarship Fund site,, high school students, college undergraduate students, and graduate students can all search for scholarships.

Reach out to your school advisors and use the many resources available at your school that have been set up to help you succeed. Working together with your advisors and parents, you’ll be well on your way to applying for scholarships that may already have your name written all over them.

Here is a recap of the best scholarship search tools: