Project Connect celebrates 10 years of helping students

More than 200 people celebrated Project Connect’s 10-year anniversary at Jack Adams Hall, uniting current and former members of the program, as well as teachers from San Francisco’s Unified School District.

Project Connect’s mission is to promote higher education of the student body and help facilitate graduation for underrepresented communities, according to the program’s website.

“A decade of this program is a monumental stepping stone,” said Teresa Hernandez, Project Connect’s intern coordinator. “The outcome of everything is just so rewarding. When we throw events like this and show something that we do and have people come out to help us — it is just the best feeling ever.”

According to Hernandez, Project Connect has thrived despite a lack of funding. The program is primarily financed through student fees, according to a September 2011 article from the Golden Gate Xpress.

“We don’t get a lot of funding,” Hernandez said. “So it’s a lot of us pushing through, working as staff, and having our volunteers working with us through the internship program.”

Project Connect Director Mario Flores, who helped found the program in 2005, figured prominently at the night’s celebration. In the presence of the many supporters and contributors of Project Connect, Flores stressed how important teamwork is for the success of the program.

“Today we are using the Nigerian proverb, ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child,’ because with the way that we do the work in (Project Connect), we truly believe in that,” Flores said. “Together, (with) collaboration between University students, faculty, staff and alumni, we can make a difference in the future of our youth in pursuing higher education.”

Freshman Gerardo Nevarez, an intern at Project Rebound, started with the program this semester.

“As a freshman, when I came in I didn’t really have anywhere to really go as a source to find information about the resources that SF State offers,” Nevarez said. “Project Connect is basically like a door to other opportunities that there are (at SF State).”

Flores said he founded Project Connect in collaboration with the Board of Directors of Associate Students, Inc. in 2005 to empower the student body at SF State.

“Today, what we’re doing is acknowledging all the work that has happened through this program in student activism when it comes to students helping students,” Flores said. “The book loan service is one of our services that we provide that supports the mission statement, that we make sure the campus is affordable for lower-middle income and under-represented students.”

The book loan service started in 2006 with $300 from ASI, along with $50 credit from the bookstore for each professor who Flores could get to turn in their book list by an early deadline, according to an Xpress article from 2005. Students were loaned textbooks from the College of Ethnic Studies for free for a semester, Xpress reported. As of this year, the book loan service has expanded to offer over 2,000 books from all colleges at SF State, according to Project Connect’s book loan inventory.

In addition to the book loan service, Project Connect provides several resources designed to make life at SF State easier for its student members, including an information fair, a peer mentorship program, a resource center and a referral program that directs students to services on campus, according to Project Connect’s website. Project Connect also now offers 30 scholarships, according to their website, which is two more than when the program first started, according to the 2005 Xpress article.

As part of Project Connect’s Recruitment Department, Irma Peinado, a fourth grade teacher at Glen Park Elementary, said she helps bring students to participate in the program from her school. Interns from Project Connect’s Recruitment Department serve as mentors, role models and tour guides to the students visiting SF State from middle schools, elementary schools and community colleges, according to Project Connect’s website.

Peinado said she started teaching at Glen Park Elementary at the same time that Flores began Project Connect and has been involved with the program ever since.

“I started (teaching) when Mario started the program ten years ago,” Peinado said. “It was nice to recognize everybody that worked so hard to get (Project Connect) running.”

The celebration was organized by Project Connect’s staff and interns, who invited hundreds of guests, organized speeches, and scheduled the catering and live performances.

Many alumni who were involved with Project Connect over the past 10 years came to the event to recognize the lasting success of the program, Hamilton said.

“I think it brought a lot of people together who were really impacted by this program,” Hamilton said. “10 years is a great way to celebrate this legacy. The overarching feeling (at the event) was just (thankfulness).”

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