Santa Monica College student Stephen Olsen is keenly appreciative of how a scholarship has helped him change his life. That is why Olsen will be joining a group of SMC students, employees and friends in “Hands Across California” at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17 in a human chain connecting Sacramento to San Diego along a nearly 1,000-mile route.
“Hands Across California” promises to be a visually arresting sight and is being billed as the largest charitable event for higher education in American history. Funds raised from the event will go to scholarships for SMC and other community college students throughout California.
In Santa Monica, the chain will run along Pico Boulevard, between Ocean Avenue and 20th Street (which includes the stretch of SMC between 16th and 20th streets), turn south at 20th Street and continue along a route to West Los Angeles College in Culver City.
Altogether, an estimated 1 million people – including celebrities and elected officials – will join hands as it winds its way from the southern tip of California to the state capital.
Participants can choose one of two ways – or both – to be involved. Funds can be donated by going to http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/SMC-1/hands-across-california. To register to be part of the human chain, go to http://www.HandsAcrossCalifornia.org. Donations of $10 can also be made to the cause by texting HANDS to 27722.
“This is such a wonderful way to ensure that a permanent scholarship is endowed to support the California community college students who have no resources to pay for college,” says Dr. Barbara K. Ige, SMC’s alumni coordinator, who is spearheading the college’s participation in the event. “I hope that those who support Santa Monica College will show up on the 17th to join hands, as well as lead the drive to raise funds on SMC’s behalf.”
Net proceeds from the event will directly benefit the California Community Colleges Scholarship Endowment (CCCSE), a permanent fund that provides annual scholarships to thousands of students every year. Funds raised on behalf of the college will go directly to SMC students. Thanks to a generous commitment from The Bernard Osher Foundation, every dollar raised through “Hands Across California” will receive a 50 percent match that will be donated to the CCCSE.
SMC student Olsen has already benefited from The Osher Foundation as a recipient of a $1,000 Osher Scholars Endowment Fund scholarship.
The 33-year-old honors student with a perfect 4.0 grade point average says the scholarship was very helpful as he has pursued a life-changing higher education at SMC since 2009.
The first in his family to attend college, Olsen says, “A profound debt burden is one of the few things that can stop an ambitious student from finishing to the end. My scholarship paid for all of my textbooks for the year and then some. When I read my textbooks, I think about that. It also instilled in me the commitment to consider this scholarship as a ‘pay it forward.’”
Among the celebrities and elected officials participating in the event are music legends Quincy Jones and Dave Koz; actors George Lopez, Mark Harmon, and Lily Tomlin; national hot rod racing champions John Force and Courtney Force; and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass of Los Angeles.
Jones notes the importance of an education as one of the reasons why this event is so needed.
“The nearly 3 million students enrolled at California's Community Colleges make up 25 percent of America's college students, and they know the importance of an education,” Jones said. “For them, it can mean the difference between poverty and prosperity, between failure and success, between hopelessness and promise. An education opens doors that would not otherwise be accessible.”
“Hands Across California” will involve most of the state’s 112 community colleges and comes at a critical time for the colleges and their students. Amid continuous budget cuts and the ever-rising cost of an education, many of the state’s community college students are struggling to pay for college. Full-time students have an annual median income of $16,223, and nearly a quarter have incomes of less than $5,544 per year. Nearly 90 percent of full-time students are in need of financial aid and almost half (47 percent) of all students have no resources to pay for college.
Ken Kragen, who was the architect behind “Hands Across America” in 1986, is the executive producer of “Hands Across California,” collaborating with the Foundation for California Community Colleges to manage the event.
“At times you simply have to do something amazing to get people's attention and get them to take action for a particular project or cause," said Kragen of his involvement in “Hands Across California.” “That was true 25 years ago when I and 6.5 million other Americans created a line that stretched all the way across these United States. Now we're doing it again in a smaller, but no less spectacular and important version. Hands Across California will shine a light on the critical issues confronting our community college students and help raise needed funds for student scholarships. It's an event everyone should participate in.”
“Hands Across California” is organized by the Foundation for California Community Colleges and made possible through the support of major corporate partnerships with AT&T, Clear Channel, Southern California Edison, UPS and Yahoo!
California’s community colleges serve as the nation’s largest system of higher education and were created to provide affordable and accessible educational opportunities for all Californians. Today, the system serves nearly 3 million students each year, enrolls three out of every ten Californians age 18 to 24, educates the majority of the state’s workforce, and provides a stepping-stone for students on the pathway to four-year and graduate degrees. Playing a significant role in the state’s workforce, California community colleges educate 80 percent of firefighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical technicians. In addition, 70 percent of the nurses in California received their education from community colleges.
“Hands Across California” organizers say their ultimate goal is to build a $100 million scholarship endowment that will work to provide desperately needed financial support to at least 5,000 students every year, forever. The CCCSE was established in 2008 thanks to a $25 million gift from The Bernard Osher Foundation. The foundation also committed another $25 million as a challenge grant to the California community colleges, pending their ability to raise an additional $50 million for the endowment by June 2011.