Berkeley Community Fund hosts 25th anniversary with award ceremony

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Zainab Ali/Senior Staff

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The Berkeley Community Fund hosted its 25th anniversary at the UC Theatre on Saturday, awarding five people for their work to support first-generation Berkeley students from low-income families and traditionally underrepresented groups going to college.

The annual event presented its 2016 Benjamin Ide Wheeler Medal to Skip Battle and honored Dorothy Walker, Narsai David, Martin Paley and Jessica Pers with Trailblazer awards. In addition to the award ceremony, the program also included a speech by Jose Saavedra about his experience with BCF’s High Hopes Scholarship Program and a donation auction from Chad Carvey’s Fund-a-Need to help raise money for the program.

Berkeley is a small town with a big heart and a big impact,” said Ann Smulka, vice president of BCF. “The recipients of the scholarship understand the community coming together and supporting them.”

Every year since 1994, BCF has awarded the Benjamin Ide Wheeler Medal to an outstanding member of the Berkeley community, or Berkeley’s “most useful citizen.” Battle was awarded for his instrumental role in directing BCF’s mission toward providing college scholarships, Pers said during the ceremony.

Generating about $2.7 million in awards since 2008, BCF’s High Hopes Scholarship Program has supported 168 students in the last few years since the program has started, according to Kad Smith, a member of the BCF board of directors.

The four Berkeley Community Fund Trailblazers were honored for their continued involvement with the foundation since BCF’s initial founding, Smulka said.

The BCF Board created the High Hopes Scholarship in 2007, according to Pers. The program also pairs students with mentors, who are volunteers from the Berkeley community who provide guidance throughout college.

Smulka said it was key for the students to have mentors who could help them get through obstacles. First-generation students, she said, have a lot of responsibilities and need moral support to gain a college degree.

A recent graduate of the High Hopes Scholarship Program, Saavedra noted during his speech his important role as a first-generation student and how his mentor helped him work through his worries about how his family would manage without him at home. Before going to UC Merced, Saavedra was working two jobs to help pay the bills outside of studying for AP tests and exams in high school.

For Omar Aguilar Martinez, a current sophomore High Hopes scholar at San Francisco State University and former Berkeley High School student, the fund allowed him to focus just on school, rather than having to work as well.

Battle said he hopes the fund will continue to grow in size and spread to other cities outside of Berkeley to help even more students.

“College is on the ramp to the freeway of the American dream,” Battle said. “It’s like the Chinese proverb: ‘If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children.’ ”

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.