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By Jennifer McEntee
Building strong communities for generations to come can begin with empowering our youth, according to Tracy Morris, chief executive officer and founder of Blue Heart Foundation.
“A college education can change a community. We have a lot of these sports programs to encourage our kids, but when it comes to raising the bar in terms of academics, we need to know that we’re investing in our communities to create role models who will go back and give again and again, year after year,” Morris said. “If we can invest and make sure these young people are going in the right direction, it’s good for the community, it’s good for the whole family. It has a ripple effect.”
Morris’ nonprofit, the Blue Heart Foundation, has stepped up to encourage underserved young men in greater San Diego County between grades 7 and 12 to pursue a college education. These students, their parents and the volunteers who help them make a commitment meet every Saturday and as needed throughout the week to do community service projects, receive mentoring, participate in personal and professional development workshops, study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts, take college campus tours, prepare for standardized testing, and fill out college and scholarship applications. There are about 50 students in the program.
“More than anything, college is a carrot. They’re not always prepared for college, and there’s a societal piece there. They don’t have the confidence to get there. We put them in different situations to help build them up,” Morris said. “We want to take them from where they are. We want them to be the best versions of themselves.”
The Blue Heart Foundation also helps the young men celebrate their successes. Each April, the foundation hosts a “signing day” event to announce the college acceptances of their graduating seniors. Of the 18 students who have graduated from the Blue Heart Foundation program, 12 are in a four-year university, two are in junior college, and four joined the military.
Morris and his small team of volunteers are unpaid. They created the Blue Heart Foundation about six years ago to give students a safe place to build friendships, find mentors, and set goals for their educations and careers.
“Our workshops are based on every kind of field – law, STEM, public sector jobs, you name it. We want them to see people who look like them in fields they might want to pursue. We want them to know there are more options,” said Morris, who is also a material estimator at General Dynamics NASSCO.
The Blue Heart Foundation has a headquarters office on Market Street downtown and a formal partnership with the University of California, San Diego, to use its office and boardroom facilities. The 501(c)3 foundation cultivates volunteers from local universities and businesses to serve as advisers, role models, and advocates for the students.
Through support from companies like SDG&E and their Inspiring Future Leaders giving initiative, Blue Heart members and mentors are able to develop workshops specifically towards STEM careers, students learn team building skills, project management and explore careers in energy. Other corporate sponsors of the Blue Heart Foundation include AT&T, the Old Globe, and Kelly Services.
“We are always open to support from the community. We want to be more visible in San Diego and we want people to invest in us,” Morris said, explaining they would prefer to work with organizations that want to spend quality time with the youth. “We want to align with genuine people, versus those who are looking for a cool photo op.”
As more students move on the college and the business world, Morris expects the foundation will be able to build an alumni network as well.
Morris said new students come to the Blue Heart Foundation by neighborhood word of mouth, or because they heard about the foundation on social media. While the focus is on underserved communities, Morris said the foundation will interview prospective participants from anywhere in the San Diego County region.
“It all depends on their dedication,” he said. “We want to help them draw inspiration and see what success looks like.”
For more information on the Blue Heart Foundation, including how to become a corporate sponsor, please visit theblueheartfoundation.org.