Rising out of the pandemic together
Local nonprofit Rise Together Education adapts, expands post-Covid
December 3, 2021
When Sammy Vasquez was growing up, he knew his family wouldn’t be able to pay for college. However, thanks to the nonprofit Rise Together Education, he was able to meet his financial needs and pursue his education in photography, videography, and graphic design — and now he has found himself drawn back to the organization to help those in the same situation he was once in.
RTE is a volunteer organization that helps socioeconomically disadvantaged Palo Alto High School students attend and succeed in college. In its first few years, the support RTE offered was limited to financial aid with minimal mentorship. Now, it’s finding its feet and expanding after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When I was there, there was barely any support — most of it was just financial — but now we’re providing lots of different methods [of support],” said Vasquez, who was a part of the second graduating class of RTE.
More recently, the program started bringing in professionals from different fields to talk to students about topics like financial literacy in order to fuel students’ post-college success.
RTE employs a board of volunteer directors and advisors, and student representatives working to help with tasks like fundraising, events, and social media.
After completing school at San Francisco State University, Vasquez became an alumni mentor and co-director on RTE’s board.
“It [working at RTE] is helping the community that you came from,” he said. “So, being able to help those that were in a similar situation that you were in.”
Vasquez joined in June 2020, in the midst of quarantine, creating new challenges for RTE to work around.
“Success can be graduating in four years, having a great semester, landing an exciting job, rising up after a difficult challenge, etc.”
— Mentorship chair Kimberly Schwan
“COVID regulations were already in effect,” Vasquez said. “Many nonprofits were struggling to figure out how to run an online fundraising event when all they were used to was hosting live/in-person events.”
With the turn to virtual events, RTE looked to expand in new ways. It created College Tour Races, in which community members could fundraise by traveling the equivalent amount to visit an out-of-state RTE college student. RTE also introduced student panels and workshops for RTE students, giving them an opportunity to expand their learning.
Hours of behind-the-scenes work had to happen in order to create these programs and workshops. Kimberly Schwan, mentorship chair, was among the many who helped in restoring the nonprofit post-COVID.
Schwan provides one-on-one mentorship, which can range from helping with academics to finding RTE students a job.
“Success can be graduating in four years, having a great semester, landing an exciting job, rising up after a difficult challenge, etc.,” Schwan said.
Since Schwan joined, the RTE board has established an alumni mentoring program in which past students assist current students, as well as a career networking program in which people involved in a certain field coach students aiming to go into that field. In addition, RTE has implemented support for students struggling with their mental health.
Aside from the board of directors and advisors, several Paly students are involved as student representatives. They take part through organizing events, fundraising and advocacy.
Junior Ines Legrand is one of five student representatives on the RTE board.
“Being able to be a part of something working against the inequality we see so often in our education system was a really awesome opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up,” Legrand said.
Legrand was the fundraising commissioner on ASB her sophomore year, and she said she is looking forward to working on fundraisers this year with RTE.
“We usually have a big gala that we plan as a fundraising event and I really hope that we will be able to do that this year and I can help organize it,” Legrand said.
Legrand hopes to create a stronger link between Paly and RTE. She would like to get input from current Paly students and use their feedback to improve the program.
“ I think it’s essential that as an organization we try to expand our reach of opportunities and scholarships, whether that means distance-wise or really digging in here at Paly,” Legrand said.
These opportunities and scholarships will continue to expand as RTE integrates more in-person events in the future and works towards further developing their program.
“As COVID regulations become less restrictive, and we continue to open up, I am sure that Rise Together plans on making more online and/or hybrid events so that everyone can attend,” Vasquez said.