Breakthrough Welcomes Marina (Mari) Morales Gonzalez, Our Newest AmeriCorps VISTA Community Coordinator

Breakthrough staff, students, and parents are honored to welcome Marina (Mari) Morales Gonzalez as Breakthrough’s new AmeriCorps VISTA Community Coordinator. Mari will be engaging with the Capistrano Valley community and reaching out to individuals, organizations, and Breakthrough supporters to sustain strong relationships in support of our program and its students.

Mari was born in Guerrero, Mexico, and brought over to the United States along with her mother to join her father when she was only six months old. She was raised all her life in the city of San Juan Capistrano, home of the swallows. Mari, like her younger brother, grew up playing soccer. She was part of the AYSO and the Capistrano girls league. She also found time to explore several afterschool programs that caught her attention like elementary camp, SRLA, and Seatech. She is fervent about being involved in an activity that keeps her mind active.

Mari graduated from California State University of Dominguez Hills with a BA in Spanish Linguistics and a minor in Health Science in May 2017. Being a single mother of a four-year-old girl, named Natalie, has inspired her to pursue working with children and educating young minds to fulfill their dreams. “It was hard to balance my roles of being a student, a mom, a daughter, and an employee but raising Natalie along the way has shown me that children can adapt and learn tremendously if given patience and attention.” Mari continues to strive for further education as she works on her Associates Degree in Child Development Education at our local Saddleback Community College.

Mari is a valuable team member because she was part of the first class of Breakthrough in 2006 as a low income student from Marco Forster Middle School with dreams to go to college. She demonstrated her desire to have the best education possible and became a Tartan Scholar at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, graduating in 2012. Mari is thrilled to return to St. Margaret’s and take on a role on the Breakthrough team as a member of AmeriCorps VISTA. As a VISTA corps member, Mari commits one year to serve as a catalyst for change, living and working alongside community members to break the cycle of poverty that continues in America. She is passionate to help her community and support local underrepresented students who need further guidance and resources. Mari, welcome to the team!

Summer 2017 Teaching Fellow Shares Her Experience

Allison Sorgeloos is originally from Detroit, Michigan and is a junior at Arizona State University. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (English) with a minor in history and a certificate in cross-sector collaboration at Barrett, the honors college at ASU Tempe. Allison served as a teaching fellow for Breakthrough SJC this past summer and taught 7th grade social studies. She said, “I applied to be a teacher at Breakthrough because, as an education major, I knew about the inequities that students who are underrepresented in higher education often face. I wanted to work with Breakthrough because they are working to end the cycle of poverty by getting students to graduate high school and into universities as well as creating sustainable change in communities across the country.”

When asked about her experience at Breakthrough SJC this summer, Allison noted, “Being a teaching fellow at Breakthrough SJC was the best experience of my life! I gained so much from working for Breakthrough. I had access to incredible professional development and amazing colleagues who inspired me to get more involved on my college campus. I was able to work with a dedicated staff and received valuable experience in a classroom. Ultimately, the Breakthrough students brought the whole experience together. They were driven, passionate, brilliant students who proved time and time again that they can and will change their world. They came ready to work, cheer, and play all summer, and they continue to inspire me every single day. The experience was so overwhelmingly positive, and I wouldn’t trade my summer for anything!”

Allison is passionate about educational equity and is a leader on campus at ASU. She is a  member of Alpha Gamma Delta Women’s Fraternity and Next Generation Service Corps. She works as the Tempe Programming Chair at Changemaker Central, is a Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach for America, volunteers with PageTurners, is a Tillman Scholar and program assistant, and is a Lincoln Scholar for applied ethics. She was also recently crowned ASU’s 2017 Homecoming Queen!

We are truly grateful for teaching fellows such as Allison who dedicate their summers to empowering the minds of our students. The application to become a teaching fellow for 2018 is available here. The early action deadline is January 11, 2018. If you have any questions about being a teaching fellow or about the application process, feel free to contact Director Victor Cota at 949-661-0108 ext. 1342 or

From SJC to NYC, Breakthrough Student Shares Her Experience

Aide Najera is a freshman at Barnard College, an all-women’s liberal arts school with a unique partnership with Columbia University. As a first generation student, going to college out-of-state and away from her family was challenging; however, Aide is making the most out of her college experience and enjoying the journey.

Aide has been a Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano student since 2011. She served as a junior teacher for our summer program in 2016 and volunteered to be a tutor for our middle school students at Marco Forster. As a graduate from St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, Aide is dedicated to lifelong learning and leadership wherever she goes.

Although she misses her parents dearly, Aide is having a positive experience at Barnard College. She enjoys the autonomy that comes with being a college student, especially since she has not declared a major yet. Aide appreciates being able to choose classes that spark her interests and explore fields such as astronomy. Nevertheless, being newly independent comes with a few challenges. Aide says, “Something I wish I knew before starting college is that you need a lot more time management skills than in high school. You don’t just need to manage your time for homework and extracurricular activities. You also need to manage your time to do laundry, buy supplies, and even to eat.”

Aide enjoys going to college in a busy city. She says, “New York City is so different from San Juan Capistrano, and I’m really enjoying that. There is so much to do and so much happening at all times. Just last week, I met Aaron Paul from the show ‘Breaking Bad’ right outside our dorms.” Aide aims to fully immerse herself into college life, so she recently pledged Delta Kappa Alpha. She hopes to continue to grow more independent and become self-sustainable.

Breakthrough SJC is so proud of Aide, and we look forward to supporting her through college graduation.


Breakthrough Visits the Bowers Museum

On Saturday, several of our Breakthrough families took a trip to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. The museum provided us with a guided tour of the exhibit Endurance: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley. The tour was led by two docents who were knowledgeable and shared interesting facts about Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917. Our families viewed rare images captured by the expedition’s official photographer, Frank Hurley, and followed along a narrative of the long journey through logs and diaries of Shackleton and his crew. Our families were inspired by the incredible story of Shackleton’s leadership, which led to the survival of his entire crew.

After a short break, we were able to participate in a group art project. As a team, we were able to take the knowledge that we learned from the exhibit and apply it towards preparation for our own expedition through the Antarctic. Each participant contributed to drawing an imaginary creature that we might encounter on our voyage as well as drawing supplies that we would put into our backpacks for survival. We also created our own vehicle that could withstand traveling through frozen conditions and wrote our own diary logs. It was a wonderfully engaging activity that required each team to build off of each other’s work to complete the project.

Our families also explored the rest of the museum, which included artifacts donated by the Forster family and facts about the Mission in San Juan Capistrano. Our families were happy to learn some more history about the city they call home.

Thank you to the Bowers Museum for being so welcoming! We are grateful for the opportunity we had to explore the extraordinary artistry and artifacts at the Bowers Museum.

MUN and GLOW Kick Off the Start of Their Second Year with Breakthrough

Our partnerships with St. Margaret’s Model United Nations (MUN) student-run club and the nonprofit Global GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) began in the fall of 2016 and just kicked off again for the 2017-2018 school year.

MUN supports our students in developing skills in public speaking, interpersonal communication, and critical thinking to ensure that they are more informed global citizens. Last spring, our middle school students wrote letters about their solutions to global issues such as education and sent them to affiliated programs of the United Nations. 8th grader Mervin F. wrote a letter to the World Food Program in the U.S. and targeted issues regarding world hunger. He received a response from the WFP and his letter was featured on their social media pages. Mervin states, “MUN has taught me how I can communicate with the world and how I can make a difference. What I hope to learn this school year is how we can make a bigger change in our society.”

GLOW aims to empower our girls through literacy, mentorship, and creative expression programs in order to foster confidence, self-esteem, leadership, and resilience. Our girls learn how to express themselves through a variety of outlets, such as music, poetry, and art. 9th grader Carissa M. described the GLOW sessions as a safe environment where everyone could be themselves, while 9th grader Catalina M. noted, “We learned how to express who we are as individuals and learned that we are all powerful.” Both students enjoyed the program last year and are excited for the nearly 30 girls in GLOW this year.

MUN and GLOW meet with our students every Thursday during In-Session at Marco Forster Middle School. Both programs open a world of opportunities for our students’ success and we are eager to see the positive impacts that they will continue to have on our students.

Parents of Breakthrough Committee Meeting Generates Fresh Ideas

We had our first official Parents of Breakthrough (POB) meeting of the 2017-2018 school year yesterday at the McDonald’s in San Juan Capistrano. Some of our students enjoyed a meal while their parents met with our Community Coordinator, Jessica. We had one of our high school juniors attend in place of his parent, which helped provide a student’s point of view during our discussions. Some topics we discussed included creating a fall event for our students to keep them engaged and how we can increase student motivation. One new idea was to create motivation through friendly competition between grade levels or between the high schools that we serve. We received great insight from our committee members, and we are excited to see some of the ideas come to life in the near future.

The Parents of Breakthrough (POB) Committee was created to give our parents the opportunity to be more active participants in our program. Parents volunteer to help the Breakthrough team plan and execute our events and fundraisers as well as aid in other program needs.

When asked why she joined the POB, Silvia G. stated, “I joined the committee because I am very grateful to Breakthrough and for all of the academic help they have given to my children. My children have excelled academically in school, so that motivates me to give a little bit of myself back to the program. I greatly appreciate the interest and dedication they put in for our children. The more parents are involved, the easier it will be to carry out the program.”

The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 18th from 5:00-6:00 P.M. at the McDonald’s in SJC. If you are a parent or guardian of a Breakthrough SJC student and would like to be a part of the committee, contact Alex Serna at or 949-661-0108 ext. 1322.

Breakthrough Senior Explores the STEM Field with MIT

Breakthrough senior Bryant Villamil wanted to learn more about potential careers in science, technology, and engineering. In the fall of his junior year, Bryant learned that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Engineering offers several enrichment programs through the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP). These programs are aimed at generating interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Bryant applied and was accepted into the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) program, which runs from June 28, 2017 to January 13, 2018. During this online program, students discuss research, attend webinars, and complete online science and engineering projects. They then present their projects during a five-day conference at MIT’s campus.

This year’s conference took place on August 1st to August 5th. Bryant stated, “During the week at MIT, I gained a new perspective.  I was able to attend a college fair with some of the best schools in the country and tour the MIT and Harvard campus. I was in a historically academic place surrounded by smart, hardworking, and passionate people from around the country.  It was a humbling experience, and I learned a lot about myself and who I want to become.”

Here is what Bryant had to say about his overall experience in the MOSTEC program:

“My experience during the program was amazing! I learned helpful new skills in scientific writing, app development, coding, and presenting during the online phase before the conference.  Aside from the online app development and scientific writing courses I took, I also wrote reflective weekly blogs and attended weekly webinars and meetings.

My favorite part of the program was getting to know so many smart, passionate, and diverse people from around the country.  The week I spent at MIT with them was an incredible experience.  I was able to learn with them in the Fluid Mechanics class and Mechanical Engineering class I took while there, and I was able to bond with them during other activities.

The program helped me realize that I can have a huge impact on the world.  There is so much potential in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  It is mind blowing! In the future I want to do something where I can make a positive impact, and the STEM field has so much potential to make a difference.”

At Breakthrough we encourage our students to make their summers meaningful in order to increase their competitiveness for college, and Bryant did just that. We are incredibly proud of Bryant’s hard work and have no doubt that he will continue to impact his community in positive ways.

Breakthrough Welcomes Sam Geary, Our Newest Volunteer Coordinator

We are thrilled to welcome Samantha (Sam) Geary, who recently started her new role as our Volunteer Coordinator. Her primary responsibilities include leading our high school tutoring program and College Mentor Program as well as recruiting and managing our volunteers.

Sam was born in Seattle, Washington and moved to North Carolina when she was two years old. She attended Wake Forest University and earned a BA in History and Anthropology with a minor in Social Justice in Education. After graduating from college in 2015, Sam joined the Fulbright Program as an English Teaching Assistant in Indonesia, where she taught English to local children for two years.

After returning to the United States, Sam wanted to continue doing fulfilling work. She was our 9th grade College Skills teaching fellow for our six-week summer program in 2014 and felt a deep connection with our students. She decided to return to Breakthrough SJC to continue supporting our program and is excited to work with the same students she taught three years ago.

Sam is joining our team as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA). AmeriCorps VISTA was founded in 1965 as a national service program to help eradicate poverty in the United States. Like our past VISTAs, Sam will serve as a catalyst for change, working alongside our team and community to fulfill our mission. Together, we will continue to put our students on the path to college in order to break the generational cycle of poverty within their families.

Visitors Get a First-Hand Look at Our Summer Program

Visitors’ Day is an annual summer event that gives community members the opportunity to meet our students and teaching fellows. Guests are able to learn more about our program during this event and see our six-week summer session in action.

This year’s Visitors’ Day was held on Tuesday, July 18th in the Performing Arts Center at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School. As guests began arriving, they were immediately greeted by our student leaders. The student leaders were our 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students who practiced how to properly greet and escort our guests to their seats.

Once our visitors entered the beautiful Performing Arts Center foyer, they were welcomed to enjoy a delicious breakfast catered by Jay’s Catering in Garden Grove. Guests sat with our students and teachers, got a deeper understanding of the students we serve, and even performed some of our Breakthrough cheers with us.

Our director, Victor Cota, gave a wonderful welcoming speech and introduced our speaker Coral Ramos, who is a current teaching fellow. Coral’s speech was powerful and moving. She spoke about her inspirational journey as a first generation student and how Breakthrough has helped her along the way.

During the next portion of our program, our visitors heard from two panels: a student panel and a teaching fellow panel. The panelists answered a series of questions about their experiences with Breakthrough, and brought several of our visitors to tears. It was an incredibly intimate moment for both our panelists and our visitors. Our summer theme “Power in me. Power in us” was truly apparent during the panels. Our students’ journey towards higher education proved that they are indeed powerful. Seeing dozens of community members show their support as our students became vulnerable proved that we are all more powerful together.

The final portion of our event was an opportunity for our guests to visit our classrooms. During the visits, guests were able to observe our teaching fellows in action and see how they interact with our students.

Thank you to all of our visitors who took time out of their day to get to know our students, teaching fellows, and program at a deeper level. We are grateful for the support of our community!

College Bound Students Celebrate the End of a Successful Year

The 2016-2017 school year wrapped up earlier this month, and we held our College Bound Celebration on June 15th to highlight the accomplishments of our high school students. Recent Dana Hills High School graduate Ariana Vargas stated, “My favorite part of the celebration was seeing everyone get awards for their accomplishments during the school year.” This year we gave awards in four different categories: Academic Achievement, Perseverance, Family, and Commitment.

The Academic Achievement Award was given to students who earned an unweighted GPA of 3.5 or above in the fall semester. This year, 46 students earned the award.


  • Emmanuel Velazquez
  • Michael Gomez
  • Benjamin Moreno
  • David Santana
  • Sarah Arce
  • Ariana Vargas
  • Charlotte Armani
  • Alan Abrego
  • Diana Acero
  • Victor Chavez
  • Jose Estrada
  • David Fernandez
  • Edlin Garcia
  • Ivan Granados
  • Samantha Jimenez
  • Maria Macias
  • Jessica Martinez
  • Nancy Mendez
  • Jeffrey Millan
  • Citlali Perez
  • Mireya Reyes
  • Monika Robles
  • Mary Rodriguez
  • Claudia Rodriguez
  • Brisa Salgado
  • Karla Sanchez
  • Ivan Santana
  • Brianna Urrutia
  • Julyanna Vazquez
  • Dafne Saldivar
  • Rey Cano
  • Erika Lopez
  • Jose Sotelo
  • Cristian Aguilar
  • Juana Monroy
  • Natalia Garcia
  • Elizabeth Ponce
  • Aide Najera
  • Amy Fabian
  • Angela Mendoza
  • Ashley Bahena
  • Brandon Fernandez
  • Bryant Villamil
  • Jaime Del Rio
  • Maggie Perez
  • Robert Gonzalez

The Perseverance Award was given to students who were highly involved in our program during the 2016-2017 school year. These students attended our tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club, volunteered at In-Session at Marco Forster Middle School, and attended other program events throughout the year.


  • Arianna Barrera
  • Eloisa Barrera
  • Samantha Jimenez
  • Jessica Martinez
  • Angela Mendoza
  • Katie Muniz
  • Bertha Olmedo
  • Mireya Reyes
  • Mary Carmen Rodrigo
  • Claudia Rodriguez
  • Aldo Ruiz
  • Jonathan Ruiz
  • Karla Sanchez
  • David Santana
  • Peter Soto
  • Alejandro Tellez
  • Richard Zamarripa

The Family Award was given to parents and families who have gone above and beyond to support our mission during the 2016-2017 school year.


  • Sarah Arce’s Family
  • Litzy Calzado’s Family
  • Aide Najera’s Family
  • Elizabeth Ponce’s Family
  • David Santana’s Family
  • Peter Soto’s Family
  • Ariana Vargas’s Family

The Commitment Award was given to seniors who have shown outstanding commitment during all of their years in Breakthrough.


  • Sarah Arce
  • Aide Najera
  • Elizabeth Ponce
  • Ivan Santana
  • Ariana Vargas

Finally, all of our seniors in attendance were recognized and given a Certificate of Completion from the College Bound Program. This year, our seventeen seniors all graduated from high school and 100% of them will be attending college in the fall. Our mission became a reality for these motivated students and we look forward to continuing to support them through college.