Aaron Price Fellows Program offers a life changing experience

14930367153_e97568f7a4_oThe Aaron Price Fellows Program prepares highly motivated and diverse San Diego public high school students to be responsible, engaged and caring members of their community. The experience has been life-changing for many.

Pamela Rasmussen Gutierrez, a 2004 graduate of the program, said joining the program was the beginning of a turning point in her life. Coming from a low-income family in City Heights, Gutierrez said the program “showed me there is a different type of lifestyle. I learned I could achieve more.”

Gutierrez was an average student before the program, but that soon changed. She went on to earn a master’s degree in non-profit management from the University of San Diego.

“The program showed me what I had to do to get there,” Gutierrez said.

Current Hoover High senior Jonathen Vazquez said the program has “made me come out of my comfort zone and helped me find leadership opportunities.”

Participants are selected from Lincoln, Hoover, Pt. Loma, and University City high schools.

Selected students from the four schools are brought together as “Fellows” approximately once a month for educational experiences such as visiting government institutions, museums, businesses, and other enrichment activities. The program spans the end of the freshman year through high school graduation. The program is free and Fellows are eligible to receive a yearly $500 stipend based on attendance and participation.

Since its founding in 1991 by the late Sol Price (founder of FedMart and Price Club), more than 1,000 Fellows, like Bell Middle School Principal Precious Jackson Hubbard, have taken part in the unique program.

“It gave me the opportunity to experience a world outside the box I was in,” said Hubbard, who graduated from Lincoln in 2000.

Hubbard recalls going with her cohort of about 40 Fellows to visit the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. her senior year and stopping by Howard University during some free time.

“When I stepped on campus I instantly became connected and said I want to come here,” Hubbard said of the campus more than 3,000 miles from her home.

It was at Howard that Hubbard decided to enter the field of education, but it was during her time as an Aaron Price Fellow that she developed, “tolerance of other people…giving back to the community…helping others…(and the) love and beauty of diversity,” skills she uses as a principal.

It was also the Fellows Program that helped Hubbard develop pride in where she came from.

One of the program’s goals is to help Fellows embrace the world’s diversity, including racial, economic, cultural, and religious differences. This can mean accepting one’s self as much as others. Hubbard said at first she was “embarrassed” to let kids from La Jolla know she was from Southeast San Diego. However, after attending a few programs, she said she realized she could be proud of the community she was from and still have aspirations to improve her life in the future.

Gary Rollins Sr., principal of Knox Elementary, said one of the biggest benefits the program had for his son, Gary Rollins Jr., was that it allowed his son to surround himself with others “interested in moving up and forward. He enjoyed being around positive, like-minded people.”

Rollins Sr. said the program reinforced what he was teaching at home and “gave him (Rollins Jr.) a foundation he might not have been exposed to otherwise.”

Since graduating from the program in 1999, Rollins Jr. has continued his friendships made in the program, fostered through the Aaron Price Fellows Alumni Association with more than 700 strong.

“I’ve had many of the kids in my house,” said Rollins Sr.

Hubbard summed up her experience in the program by saying, “It’s not about where you come from. There are opportunities for you to do better and more. This is one of those opportunities.”

To learn more, you can visit www.aaronpricefellows.org.