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 alex.serna@smes.org 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 Jessica.dinh@smes.org 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!

Welcome Jessica, Breakthrough SJC’s New Community Coordinator

Breakthrough SJC is thrilled to introduce the latest member to the team, Jessica Dinh! Jessica will be serving as the new Community Coordinator. Her role includes building and maintaining relationships within the community as well as developing systems for long-term sustainability of BTSJC programs. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, she will be serving for the next 12 months.

Jessica was raised in Garden Grove, California with her four sisters and parents. In her free time, she enjoys going on Disney adventures with her 4-year-old son and reading biographies. Jessica earned her AA in social and behavioral sciences at Golden West College, and she recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from California State University, Long Beach with a BA in human development. Her previous experience includes being an outreach and engagement educator and a private tutor. Breakthrough SJC is excited to have her on board!

Not Wasting a Second: A Breakthrough Alumna’s First Two Months in College

When Maribel Castanon first received her acceptance letter to Chapman University in the spring of 2016, it was not at the top of her list. Thinking back, she reflects, “I was not so excited because Chapman was not my first choice, [but] I have to agree with what many people have told me in the past, ‘Your college experience is what you make of it.’” Eight months after the initial acceptance and with a great start to the school year, she has found a new home at Chapman.

Maribel was a dedicated volunteer with Breakthrough SJC, where she served as a middle school tutor in 2012 and as a 7th grade science teaching fellow for two consecutive summers. While excelling in the International Baccalaureate program at Capistrano Valley High School, she devoted her time to supporting Breakthrough middle school students, acting as a peer minister, and helping her family’s business. A true example of a first-generation student who is studious and committed to giving back, Maribel has tapped into her strengths to thrive in college.

Reflecting on her first two months in college, Maribel remarks that “I have immersed myself into college and that has definitely made all the difference . . . take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you.” She is engaged with the Chapman community in many ways: by joining the University Program Board, a student-group dedicated to organizing campus events; pledging to Kappa Alpha Pi, a pre-law co-ed fraternity; and registering people to vote for the Office of Student Engagement in the Civic Engagement subdivision. Though the pressures of living away from family, being a campus leader, and succeeding in the classroom can be overwhelming, she fights through it with resolve, describing that “I am under a lot of pressure, not that everyone else may not feel the same way, but as a first generation student . . .  I don’t want to let my parents down or myself down . . . I feel like I especially have to prove that I deserve to be here.”

Breakthrough SJC is extremely proud of Maribel, and she leaves us with one final piece of advice: “I want students to know that college, but most importantly, education is such a valuable thing that you can have, gaining knowledge is what I have appreciated most about college.”

Students Lean into Discomfort: Model United Nations Teams Up with Breakthrough SJC

Breakthrough’s middle school year program kicked off in October with 60 7th & 8th grade students, 65 tutors from six local high schools and a new partnership with the St. Margaret’s Model United Nations (MUN) student-run club. As part of preparing students for college, the new partnership with MUN supports students in developing public speaking, interpersonal communication, and critical thinking skills to ensure that they are more informed global citizens. The partnership arose through the proactive leadership of two St. Margaret’s seniors, Anika Grover and Makenna Mitchell. The two MUN student leaders identified a need to teach local students about civic engagement through “public speaking and the ability to solve issues diplomatically.”

Anika and Makenna, with the guidance of Breakthrough staff and MUN faculty advisor Rocky Parker, have created curriculum and trained a select group of MUN members to teach lessons once a week during Breakthrough’s after school program at Marco Forster Middle School. This model truly embraces Breakthrough’s unique “students teaching students” model. As noted by Anika, “Every week at MUN BT, students are learning how to become global citizens who have the confidence to voice their thoughts and opinions in the world community. We want to help students embrace public speaking, not be scared of speaking in front of large groups of people.” In their first week, students learned the qualities of effective speakers and practiced speaking in front of classmates. Throughout the school year, students will learn these valuable skills while becoming more aware of international relations, politics, and current affairs.

Evidenced by consecutive weeks of 100% student attendance, the new partnership endeavors to continue engaging students, teaching them to be more informed, global citizens and most importantly, lean into discomfort.

Breakthrough would like to thank Anika & Makenna, Mr. Rocky Parker and all of the MUN members for teaching our students to be confident speakers and globally-conscious citizens.