Category Archives: News

San Juan Hills High School Teen Gifts Breakthrough with Disney’s Luminary Grant

Disneyland Resort Dreamers and Doers recognizes high school students in Orange County who take actions to improve their communities, schools, and homes. Each year, students are nominated by their schools and apply to be recognized for making a difference. On February 25, 2017, over 30 students attended an educational symposium at the Disneyland Hotel where they creatively worked as a team to problem solve and engaged in presentations that focused on leadership and professional development. The students then went to a celebratory luncheon where they were individually recognized and awarded a $1,000 grant for their school.

During the luncheon, five students were announced as “Luminaries” for showing outstanding service within the community. Among the five Luminaries was San Juan Hills High School junior Dalton Bourne. Dalton wanted to prevent the students at his school from texting while driving, so he began a safe driving initiative. He created phone pouches that read, “On the Road, Off the Phone” and handed them to over 400 students. Students would place their phones in the pouches prior to driving to prevent them from looking at their phones while on the road.

As a Luminary recipient, Dalton was provided the opportunity to donate a $3,000 grant to an Orange County nonprofit organization of his choice. Before being acknowledged as a Luminary, Dalton already knew which nonprofit to which he would donate the grant. On the application he submitted, he wrote, “If I was given the opportunity to support a local organization, I would choose Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. This is a non-profit organization in my community that helps give less-privileged students tutoring and college counseling support… I am thankful for the opportunity that this organization gave [my good friend] and I would love to support it so it can continue to change the lives of many teens in my community.”

On April 4, 2017, San Juan Capistrano Mayor Kerry Ferguson recognized Dalton’s achievements during the City Council meeting. Gina Welch, Disneyland Resort Corporate Citizenship Program Manager, presented the award to Dalton and recognized Breakthrough SJC. Director Victor Cota accepted the Luminary grant while several Breakthrough students and parents applauded from the audience. We are honored that Dalton chose to donate the grant to Breakthrough.

Thank you Dalton and the Disneyland Resort Dreamers and Doers program for awarding the grant to Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. The Luminary grant will support us in fulfilling our mission and will have a direct impact on our students.

Breakthrough Gets a Glimpse of Oceanography

The Nicholas Endowment generously gifted the Ocean Institute with a grant in order to provide ocean-based programs to organizations in the community. As a result, the Ocean Institute in Dana Point personally reached out to Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano and offered several fun and educational options. We were able to schedule a marine mammal cruise, which was made available to all of our students as well as their families.

On Saturday April 1st, over 70 of our students and families went aboard the R/V Sea Explorer at the Ocean Institute. The Ocean Institute provided two cruises to accommodate all of our participants. The first cruise left at 9:30 in the morning. We had the honor of having Dan Stetson, Executive Director of The Nicholas Endowment, on board the first cruise. Breakthrough had the opportunity to see two gray whales, a pod of dolphins, sea lions, and a variety of birds on the morning cruise. The second cruise left at noon. The students and families on the afternoon cruise got the rare treat of seeing a humpback whale! On top of encountering various marine mammals, we received hands-on experience in taking and viewing specimens from the ocean floor. The Ocean Institute staff also gave participants a deeper understanding of whales and dolphins, which included allowing them to touch a real baleen.

We truly appreciate all of the staff at the Ocean Institute as well as The Nicholas Endowment for the enriching experience.

Breakthrough Represents at the Swallows Day Parade

On Saturday, March 25, dozens of our students represented Breakthrough at the 59th Annual Swallows Day Parade. Hosted by the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association, the Swallows Day Parade is one of the nation’s largest non-motorized parades. The parade celebrates the return of the swallows on St. Joseph’s Day, which is on March 19. The Swallows Day Parade has been a beloved tradition in San Juan for the past 6 decades. We are grateful for the parade’s sponsor, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, for the support in getting Breakthrough prepared leading up to the parade.

By 11am on parade day, there were crowds lining the sidewalks of downtown San Juan who were eagerly waiting to see the various bands, equestrians, walking groups, and horse-drawn floats. Once the bells rang and the parade went underway, the energy began radiating throughout our group of students. Filled with excitement, our students started chanting and cheering to show off their Breakthrough pride. Freshman Angela Mendoza-Ortega stated, “As my first time walking with Breakthrough, I felt empowered because even though we were a small group, our voices united and we had a fun time together.” We were fortunate to have such an amazing group of bright students represent the Breakthrough family, and we are excited to represent again next year!

UCI Field Study Interns Serve Their Final Day at Breakthrough

University of California, Irvine field study interns Jesus Garcia and Madison (Maddie) Abel completed their internship with Breakthrough last Thursday. They began their ten-week internship in early January and supported our program immensely during their time with us. Jesus and Maddie are both seniors majoring in psychology and social behaviors at UCI. Maddie interned at our  In-Session program for middle school students while Jesus interned at our College Bound tutoring program for high school students.

Jesus Garcia (left) pictured with one of our tutors Scott (right)

Similar to most of our students, Jesus is a first generation college student. He transferred to UCI from a community college where he earned three Associate’s degrees. He chose to complete his field study at Breakthrough because he wanted to learn social skills such as communication, leadership, initiation, and teamwork. Over the past several weeks, Jesus worked in conjunction with volunteer coordinator Carolina Pallares to facilitate the tutoring program every Wednesday and Thursday. On his final day, Jesus stated, “I have learned that building rapport with students by sharing about yourself helps create better relationships.” We have no doubts that Jesus’s willingness to learn and grow will lead him to success.

A San Juan Capistrano native, Maddie interned at Breakthrough because she knew she wanted to work with kids in the educational field and thought it would be more personal to work where she grew up. Maddie served during our afterschool In-Session program every Tuesday and Thursday. She said, “I formed connections with many of the students and really did enjoy talking to them and hearing their ideas. They provided me with many laughs and I was always learning something new. I was able to answer many of their questions regarding college and hope they learned from me as much as I learned from them.” Maddie plans to attend graduate school to earn a Master’s degree in school psychology or social work. She is excited about returning to Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano this summer as a teaching fellow.

Thank you Jesus and Maddie for your dedication to our students and programs. We appreciate all of the hard work you both provided and look forward to hearing about and supporting your future endeavors!

Breakthrough Attends UCI Youth Empowerment Conference

On March 4, several of our Breakthrough students, families, and staff attended M.E.Ch.A de UCI’s 37th annual youth empowerment conference. The conference focused on college readiness and provided workshops relating to issues affecting our students’ communities. Some of the workshops our students attended were about A-G requirements, the importance of financial aid, and resources for scholarships and grants.

We asked Breakthrough sophomore Katie Muniz which workshop was most impactful for her. Katie replied, “My favorite workshop was about self-care for students of color. We learned about different ways to take care of ourselves and relieve stress. For example, we could try gardening.” Each student was able to plant their own succulent and take it home. They absolutely enjoyed the amount of engagement and information provided by these workshops.

Overall, the conference was meaningful for our students and families. Assistant director Alex Serna stated, “The trip was impactful because students and parents were able to listen to UCI students share their challenges and successes applying to and being a college student. In the end, our families left more informed and confident about their future college aspirations”

Breakthrough has the opportunity to attend a similar youth conference at UCLA in May. Transportation from St. Margaret’s and lunch will be provided. For more information, contact Alex at or 949-661-0108 ext. 1322.

Breakthrough SJC Thanks its Community Partners

Director Victor Cota with Greg Williams from CCPrep

As this year rapidly progresses, we would like to reflect on the generosity of our 2016 community partners:

Ball Park Pizza
Carlos Mexican Restaurant
Comprehensive College Prep
Pacific Symphony Heartstrings Program
McDonald’s San Juan Capistrano
Ocean Institute
Passion Planner LLC
Printing OC
Ricardo’s Place
Rimrock Capital Management, LLC
Smart Software Solutions, Inc.
St. Joseph Health (We Care Committee)

These partners have exemplified the meaning of giving and have continued to help our program thrive. As a result, we have been able to stay true to our mission of providing educational opportunities for our highly motivated, underserved students as well as providing an enriching experience for our teachers. Whether these partners donated services or donated food or finances, we appreciate each one wholeheartedly. We want to send out a huge thank you for being our valued partners in 2016.

If your company or organization would like to become a new or returning community partner in 2017, please reach out to AmeriCorps VISTA Community Coordinator Jessica Dinh at or 949-661-0108, ext 1348. You can also donate here today!

Breakthrough Senior Receives Youth of the Year Award

Congratulations to Breakthrough senior Sarah Arce for earning the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley Youth of the Year Award! Sarah joined the Boys & Girls Club ten years ago as a second grader. At that time, her mother had to work late into the evening, so being a member of the Boys & Girls Club was a safe way to spend her time after school.

Applying for the Youth of the Year Award was a rigorous process. Each applicant had to write three essays, submit school transcripts and a resume, be interviewed, and give a speech. Sarah was nervous about the process because “the other Club members were so great and had great stories.” Sarah said, “I was shaking when the winner was announced, and I went up to the Program Director to give her a big hug before accepting the award.” We are so proud of Sarah and all of her accomplishments, and we know she has an incredible future ahead of her.

Fun facts about Sarah:

  • She has been a Breakthrough student for six years.
  • Sarah has taken leadership with Breakthrough as a summer Junior Teacher and as a school-year GLOW Mentor.
  • She is involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters and Edge at the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano.
  • Sarah applied to numerous colleges including Humboldt State University, St. Edwards University, University of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, Beloit College, and University of California, Berkeley.
  • Her future goals are to major in Accounting and one day own a fashion or cosmetology line.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley is a respected partner of our program. We appreciate the opportunities they provide our students by lending their facility for tutoring and supporting other events there throughout the year. Thank you Boys & Girls Club, and well done Sarah!

Our Newest Breakthrough Students Share Their Thoughts

Early each year, we release our new student applications for interested 6th grade students. Becoming a part of our program is a huge commitment for both students and their families, including six years and three summers. The outcome–going to college–is rewarding and well worth the hard work.

To gain a better understanding of why students should apply to the program, we interviewed some of our newest 7th grade students, who completed their first summer program in 2016 and are just about finished with their first school year as Breakthrough students.


Applications are still available at the Marco Forster Middle School front office or by visiting our website. They are due Friday, February 17th. For more information, click here.


New Partnership with Global GLOW Aims to Empower Our Girls


We are excited about our new partnership with Global GLOW. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World. Founded in 2011, Global GLOW works with 5th-12th grade girls from around the world to empower them to realize their full potential. The organization aspires to empower girls through literacy, mentorship, and creative expression programs as well as foster confidence, self-esteem, leadership, and resilience in girls who are on the brink of success.  GLOW maintains partnerships with many community-based organizations throughout the world where they serve over 10,000 girls each year. Their main goal is to open the minds of young girls to the world of opportunities for their success, and provide emotional support for a healthy inner self.


Over a dozen of our Breakthrough girls meet with GLOW every week at Marco Forster Middle School. 7th grader Loren states, “GLOW makes me feel better about myself and the facilitators are kind and inspiring.” Violeta, who is also in the 7th grade, enjoys attending GLOW meetings. She says, “I like to go because it makes me feel better when I’m having a bad day, and I’ve learned how to express myself.” We are glad that Global GLOW is helping us lead our students toward a bright, successful future.

Family, Food, and Fun!

Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano had the pleasure of hosting our first annual holiday potluck with our students and families this past Wednesday the 14th.


We started off with a warm welcome and shared some exciting news:

  1. Over the summer, on the nationally-normed Renaissance STAR assessment, all students earned tremendous gains in math and reading.
  2. Our McDonald’s fundraiser on November 30th had a great turnout. We had many of our students, families, community partners, and faculty members attend, and their support helped raise over $600 for our program and students.
  3. We are excited about our new partnerships with Model United Nation (MUN) and GLOW! MUN will provide a way for our students to become engaged citizens and share their voices as they learn about our global world. GLOW provides an arts-based space for our girls to encourage and empower them to embrace their identity.
  4. Our fifteen seniors submitted a combined total of over 100 college applications! We are proud of our seniors’ accomplishments!


After celebrating our students’ achievements, everyone was ready to eat. Students and their families provided the delicious food, drinks, and dessert for our dinner.

All of our students received a planner that was generously donated by Passion Planner LLC. The planners will serve as an organizational tool for our students as they head intoDSC_1265 the New Year.

On behalf of the Breakthrough SJC staff, we would like to thank everyone for attending and showing your commitment to our program. Happy holidays!