“Someone from my background, the child of a single immigrant parent … we don’t have the luxury of staying within the status quo. We must venture outside of our comfort zones to break the cycle.”
Joe Darza began learning that lesson in 2005, when Summer Search first broadened his horizons by sending him on an all-expenses-paid trip to Minnesota. The following year, the organization sent him to Japan as an exchange student for a month and a half. And immediately, according to his mother, his demeanor was transformed.
“He was so much more confident, and willing to share his experiences,” said Josephine Darza, a personal lines account manager for Pennbrook Insurance Services in San Francisco. “Before then, I was concerned about my ability to send my son to college—15 years ago I was a single mother, battling breast cancer, and our income was just slightly over the poverty level. But once I saw what he had gained from Summer Search, and that he would have ongoing mentorship, I knew he would be a driving force for his own growth.”
Great potential … and limited resources
That’s precisely the kind of outcome Summer Search was designed to achieve, said Kristine Leja, executive director of the organization’s Bay Area location, one of five in major metro areas across the U.S. “We serve young people who have great potential, but limited access to the resources, opportunities, and relationships needed to pursue and achieve their academic and professional pursuits.”
The median family income for Summer Search participants is under $25,000—96% qualify for free or reduced lunch, 93% are or will be the first in their families to attend college, 97% are people of color. All are offered the following comprehensive benefits, many of which are provided for years:
- Culturally responsive and peer mentoring provided by/facilitated by trained staff mentors Two immersive, fully funded summer experiential learning opportunities during high school
- Individualized post-secondary pathway exploration and financial aid advising
Consistent network of support during post-secondary transitions through to launching career
- Access to national network of staff, alumni, board and corporate partners for professional development opportunities
Once Josephine realized the incredible benefits, she knew she wanted to support Summer Search, along with the students and families it serves. She was a founding member of the Family Council, which was created to provide parents of prospective participants with insight on the program from other families and alumni.
Still supporters, more than 10 years later
And both she and her son are still involved with Summer Search today—the words at the beginning of this story were taken from a speech Joe gave at the 2018 gala in San Francisco.
Josephine’s dedication to providing opportunities for students to reach their potential has earned her a 2020 Make More Happen Award. The honor comes with a donation of up to $10,000 from Safeco to Summer Search Bay Area on behalf of Pennbrook Insurance Services.
“Our investment in these students is only possible thanks to the incredible network of champions and advocates in our broader community—like Josephine and Pennbrook Insurance” Leja said. “They amplify our impact.”