Counselor talking with student on the school lawnHere at MEFA, we’re dedicated to helping students access and afford higher education and prepare themselves well for post-secondary success. We always value learning more about partner organizations working toward the same goal. I recently chatted with Dallas Pride, the Director of Post-Secondary Programs and Alumni Relations at Summer Search, an organization with a Boston presence that uses mentoring, leadership experiences, and advising to help young people become thriving adults.

JH: Can you tell me a little bit about the mission of Summer Search?

DP: Summer Search, a national, positive youth development organization, was founded in 1990. Our mission is to unleash students’ potential through mentoring and transformative experiences. We envision a world in which young people, regardless of circumstances, have the opportunity to fulfill their potential and lead their families and communities to thrive.

JH: Who is eligible to participate in the program?

DP: High school sophomores that attend Boston Public, Chelsea, and Malden high schools are eligible to apply. Additionally, students must not have more than two Fs on their 9th grade transcript and their parent’s/guardian’s income must meet certain guidelines.

JH: How does program impact the lives of the students involved?

DP: Summer Search works with students to:

  • Provide supportive and sustained relationships with adults and peers in order to help students reflect on their actions, life experiences, identities, and communities
  • Provide opportunities for growth and connection through concentrated experiences that challenge and empower students
  • Support them on their journeys toward their educational and long-term goals
  • Connect them to academic, social, wellbeing, job, and financial support and resources

As a result of our program, 400+ high school students, 600+ post-secondary participants, and 1,000+ alumni are served annually. Additionally, 100% of students graduate from high school, 97% are accepted to college, and nearly 70% graduate from college, compared to 21% of their first-generation and low-come peers.

JH: Can you tell me how outdoor experiences shape college preparedness?

DP: For some of our students embarking on a wilderness experience, they are tackling a lot of firsts: first time on an airplane, first time traveling out of state, and first time away from their families. These challenging summer experiential opportunities broaden our students’ view of the world and begin to shape who they are and what they believe is possible for themselves.

JH: What college prep services and/or events does Summer Search offer?

DP: We partner with a local college access organization that provides students with logistical support through the college application and financial aid process. We also help students strengthen their social and emotional learning skills, sense of values, and critical consciousness. Over the long-term, students begin to evolve their integrated identity, focus on educational attainment, become career-ready, and prioritize financial well-being.

JH: Is there a lot of alumni involvement in the program?

DP: Nationally, Summer Search has over 3,000 alumni of the program with just over 1,000 originating from the Boston area. 11 of our alumni serve on the Alumni Board and Leadership Council while our Co-Chairs hold seats on our Board of Trustees. Our alumni also give back to the program, donating $195,000 in FY18. Locally, 25% of our staff members are Summer Search alumni, including Hermese Velasquez, Boston’s Executive Director.

JH: What is the biggest challenge that you face and what is the most common obstacle that you see for students to succeed?

DP: I imagine we have similar challenges to other nonprofits: the need for more funding and staff and the desire to expand the program. Our model is a costly one; summer trips average between $3,000 and $5,000 per student, per summer. Additionally, because we hire full-time mentors to provide direct service, caseloads can shift between 1 mentor to 35 students (the sweet spot) and 1 mentor to 43 students depending on the number of students in the program. Finally, our post-secondary program is relatively new compared to the organization. We’ve spent the past year redesigning it and are excited about the direction in which we’re heading.

Dallas Pride, Director of Post-Secondary Programs and Alumni Relations, Summer Search

Dallas Pride serves as the Director of Post-Secondary Programs and Alumni Relations at Summer Search. She believes we all have the capacity to lead and she has dedicated her career to instilling this belief in young people, first-generation students, and those from underrepresented communities. Previously, Dallas worked for the Posse Foundation, helping students transition from being leaders on campus to leaders in the workforce. She has also created and administered development programs for several colleges and universities and managed community relations initiatives for NBA and WNBA teams. Dallas received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and her master’s degree in higher education from Northeastern University. She recently completed a certificate program in Nonprofit Leadership and Management through Tufts University and the Institute for Nonprofit Practice.