Oakland Local: East Bay College Fund matches mentors with students for community success

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dsc_4582April 10, 2013
By Jon Leckie

By the end of his junior year, Jameil Butler was a promising high school student. He was sociable, popular and a rising star on championship teams in basketball and football. Butler knew he had talent, and he knew that talent could help him take the next step from Oakland Technical High School to the halls of higher education. But after a trip to Sacramento in 2004, Butler would find the life he had imagined for himself out of reach.

“I was having some issues at home, and wanted to get out of town. So I went to visit my brother at Sacramento State,” Butler said. “We were waiting outside a club meeting people and talking to girls. A week before some people from Oakland had killed someone from Sacramento, so these guys weren’t too happy when they found out where I was from.”

Butler says he tried to walk away, but was followed through the parking lot and down the street. “I tried to ignore it,” he said, “but after two blocks I got tired of it and turned around. He pulled a gun and shot me twice in the stomach.”

After two weeks in the hospital, and the loss of one of his kidneys, Butler would return home. But doctors told him the risk of blood clots made it too dangerous to continue to play football; ending any shot he had at an athletic scholarship.

Leaning on the support and encouragement of his mother, Butler was still determined to get a college education. That was when he ran across the East Bay College Fund.

“The East Bay College Fund was started in 2003 by a group of citizens who really wanted to support change in Oakland,” Diane Dodge, the fund’s executive director, said. “We started serving seniors in high school by supporting them through college with the goal of having them graduate and give back to the community.”

In addition to rewarding scholarships to students and helping them find and use resources to get through college, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and navigating them through the college application process, the East Bay College Fund also supports students with one-on-one mentoring for the entirety of their college career.

“I hit some roadblocks personally and academically, but my mentor had my back and made sure I made progress as a student and as a man,” Butler said. “They invested time and energy in me, and that really meant a lot.”

This year, The East Bay College Fund will add 40 scholars to the 150 students they are currently helping through college.

“That means we’re giving out a $16,000 scholarship to each scholar, or $4000 per year over four years. And we’re matching them with a mentor who will be their support and their guide through their entire college journey,” Dodge said. “We have 30 mentors, but need 10 more. We’re looking for community members who have graduated from college and are looking to give back by guiding scholars and supporting them through all the things they will go through in college.”

Mentors at The East Bay College Fund commit to attending two retreats a year with their scholars, and involving themselves in the life of the scholar through regular conversations.

“It’s an art, not a science,” Dodge said. “Mentoring is a privilege. Towards the end people talk about the student like they are their own children, but there are also a lot of challenges with class and race and self-doubt. We let our students know ‘yes, you can’ and we believe in you, and the mentor is the person that reminds them of that.”

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