I graduated from Century High School and will be attending the University of California, Irvine with a major in dance and a second major in business. After college, I plan to become a backup dancer for artist like Lady Gaga or Beyoncé. I also plan to return to my community and teach dance. One day I would like to open my own dance studio and offer scholarships to low-income student so they can also afford a high-quality training.  The resources this program has given me, I realized that I am capable of anything.

– Higher Education Mentoring Program graduate 


75% of students who complete the Higher Education Mentoring Program successfully complete their bachelor’s degree, compared with the 21% college completion rate of Latinos statewide.
The after-school program works with approximately 60 high school students each year, providing needed skills through monthly workshops*, guest speakers and local business professionals, all designed to build upon one another.
Since the inception of the Higher Education Mentoring Program, over $1 MILLION dollars in college scholarships has been awarded to graduates of the program.

The program is unique in matching each junior and senior high school student participant with a university student or young professional who has overcome barriers, and knows firsthand what it takes to succeed in an institution of higher learning. Participants are provided with individual and group* mentoring geared towards academic growth and development.

*Currently all programming is being held virtually due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Many past program graduates serve as mentors or volunteer speakers in the Higher Education Mentoring Program, giving their time to enhance the college experience of younger Latinos who share the same goal of higher education. Each mentor is screened and provided with training and guidance. He/she arranges to meet with his/her mentee individually or in a small group to assist with researching colleges and majors, completing admissions applications, and researching scholarships and financial aid, while offering their motivation and encouragement.

Mentor Highlight- Alonso Ledesma 

Alonzo Ledezma, Project Youth OC Higher Education Mentoring Program Mentor, does the word mentor proud. Spending the last eight years mentoring, he is absolutely an experienced and trusted advisor to our students.

“Alonso has been a wonderful mentor both when I was in the program and still to this day. He continues checking up on me to be of support and to have company eating at our favorite restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings. When I was accepted to UC Santa Cruz and San Francisco State he took time off to do a road trip with me to visit these colleges. Together we explored the cities and learned about these campuses. He was instrumental in guiding my college path and success. He has been a wonderful mentor and I am proud to be his mentee and friend.”

– Higher Education Mentoring Program graduate

Parent involvement is key. Parents are invited to attend all monthly workshops, as well as quarterly “platicas” given in Spanish. Bilingual/bicultural program staff is available to provide parental support, which motivates and assists parents as they navigate the educational system in support of their sons and daughters.

The Higher Education Mentoring Program has had tremendous success in guiding young students to pursue their dreams of attending institutions of higher learning. Upon completion of the program, graduates are recognized at a congratulatory celebration and receive “college-starter kits” and/or $500 amazon gift card including backpacks filled with educational supplies, provided by Project Youth OC Board members and sponsoring firms, to start them on their journey to becoming tomorrow’s leaders. Additionally, each graduating high school senior receives a minimum $1,000 college scholarship. To date, Project Youth OC has given over $1 million dollars in college scholarships.

Why We Offer This Program

Orange County has become iconic for its wealth and upscale beach communities. And yet 1 in 4 households in Orange County earns less than $50,000 a year and at its heart is the city of Santa Ana—a city where only 58.1%* of adults have a high school diploma and 28.7%* of children under 18 years old living in poverty, the second highest amongst the 34 cities located in Orange County. *(U.S Census and OC Conditions of Children Report, 2019)

Living in poverty, our students have experienced firsthand how challenging life can be without a college education. In fact, 92% of our youth are the first in their family to go to college, and, for many, the first to even graduate high school.

Education is an obvious solution. The Higher Education Mentoring Program works to effectively meet the needs of youth by providing them with intensive academic, social, and financial support during high school and throughout their undergraduate studies. Our goal is not only help youth get in to college, but to provide the support and resources they need to beat the odds and graduate.

Community Resources

  1. How to Manage Chronic Health Conditions in School
  2. Resources for Individuals with Disabilities
  3. Financial Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities
  4. Student Rights, Resources, and Accredited Online Schools for Individuals with Disabilities
  5. Resources for Students Living with HIV

    *Links provided by the Center for School, College & Career Resources
  6. Careers to Combat HIV & AIDS

    *Provided by Learn How to Become, this links to a guide with resources related to reducing the risk of HIV, support for living with HIV, and career paths for those that want to help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Get Started

If you would like to apply for the Higher Education Mentoring Program, you can contact the Higher Education Counselor at your high school for an application or you may contact Alejandra Diaz.


  • Must apply sophomore year of high school
  • Must currently attend high school in Santa Ana
  • Must have a 2.0 grade point average or higher
Alejandra Diaz
Program Manager
714.480.1925 x100