Maya Tumbaga is one of the local girls who heard about the program and signed on for the week-long camp that ran June 17-21.
“I heard about it when we had an assembly at my school about the program,” Tumbaga said. “They talked about focusing on making smart choices in high school and college.”
Girls, Inc. of the Central Coast offers the summer camp program, Smart Choices, each year. The goal of the summer camp is to teach middle school girls who will be starting as high school freshman the skills they will need to be successful in school.
Tumbaga already had dreams of going to college before the summer camp, with her eyes set on Stanford University. During the camp she met other girls from San Benito, Greenfield, Soledad, King City and Salinas.
“The best thing I learned was how to deal with certain situations in high school like peer pressure and how to do the right thing,” Tumbaga said.
Tumbaga, who got a scholarship to attend the camp, said she would recommend it for other eighth-grade girls next year.
“It teaches you how to focus more on important things in life and how you can achieve your goals and stuff, instead of how your social life is in high school,” she said.
The sessions deal with study habits, self-esteem and give the girls a chance to stay on campus in a dorm.
Rebecca Salinas said it is the third year girls from San Benito County have been able to attend the summer camp, where the cost to run the program for a week is $600 per student. With support from the Community Foundation for Monterey County the tuition is $360 per child, but several San Benito nonprofits helped to raise even more money to keep the cost low for the local girls.
“At least 99 percent of the girls from San Benito are on scholarship,” said Elizabeth Contreras, a program director for Girls, Inc. “Because of support of the Community Foundation and local support we’ve been able to fund raise. We’ve been able to give out scholarships to those girls so they don’t’ have to worry about that cost.”
Salinas, a member of Delta Kappa Gamma and the Women’s Club of Hollister, said Delta Kappa Gamma was able to raise enough money to send two girls to the camp three years ago. Then they sent five and this year they sent 19.
“In Salinas, I saw some girls who went through the program,” she said. “It was great. It changed their whole attitude.”
With Delta Kappa Gamma’s focus on education, she worked with other members to organize some fundraisers to raise money to send girls to camp. The Women’s Club was soon on board, especially since they have a focus on scholarships for education. This year, Community Foundation for San Benito County sponsored 15 of the girls who went to camp from San Benito, according to Patty Fernandez, the executive director.
“A committee that formed together about a year ago has been getting sponsors for girls from San Benito County to go to Smart Choices (camp,)” Fernandez said.
Salinas recalled how when she was a young girl growing up in Southern California, she had no one to guide her toward a college education.
“My mother’s aspiration for me was to work in the local button factory,” she said. “But I went to school and high school where I did well.”
Salinas herself said she thought she could become a bookkeeper or a secretary, but she really wanted to become a teacher. She did become a teacher and she served on the Hollister School District board of trustees.
“When I saw this program, I thought, ‘What a great thing,’” she said. “They (Girls, Inc.) knows the system and this is a way to set the goal.”
Salinas said the ultimate goal is for fundraising to continue in San Benito County to expand the programs locally. A steering committee of about a dozen San Benito residents have been working together on it. In Monterey County, Girls, Inc. provides year-round after school programs for elementary school and middle school students, with high school girls who have completed the programs serving as mentors. A luncheon fundraiser is tentatively set for October to raise more money.