Two nonprofits merging; both help students from lower-income families

College access nonprofits seek to reduce per-student costs, broaden programs

by Kate Bradshaw / Almanac

Teacher assistant Amanda Louie works with students Angie Ortiz, left, and Valeria Fuentes during a math lesson regarding prices and percentages at the Peninsula Bridge program at Castilleja School. (2012 Almanac file photo by Daniella Sanchez.)

Two local nonprofit organizations – both dedicated to helping students from lower income families succeed in high school and college – are merging.

The Palo Alto-based Peninsula Bridge announced today it will merge with the East Palo Alto based Building Futures Now. The combined organization will keep the name Peninsula Bridge.

The goal is to provide broader programs to more students at a lower cost per student, according to Peninsula Bridge Executive Director Jocelyn Swisher.

Both organizations have more than 25 years of experience and aim to help students who are the first in their families to pursue postsecondary education to enroll in and graduate from college.

Their programs are similar, Ms. Swisher said. Both use summer and after-school programs to guide students to academic success and college acceptance. However, traditionally, Building Futures Now has worked with fourth- through 12th-grade students in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park, while Peninsula Bridge works with students from 40 schools, spanning Foster City to Mountain View, from fifth-grade through college graduation.

In the merger, Peninsula Bridge will take on the services that Building Futures Now has provided to East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park students, Ms. Swisher said.

Peninsula Bridge will hire two of three staff members and take on three new board members from Building Futures Now: Penny Gallo, Dr. Chi-Chao Chang and Peter Dumanian. Alan Austin, current chairman of the Peninsula Bridge board, will remain as board chair.

The executive director of Building Futures Now, Rosemary Kamei, will continue through Sept. 1, Ms. Swisher said.

Now, instead of having about 100 East Palo Alto students being served by Building Futures Now and 100 in the Peninsula Bridge program, all 200 will be enrolled in the Peninsula Bridge program, representing a third of Peninsula Bridge's overall student population of about 600.

Former Building Futures Now students will gain access to Peninsula Bridge's college support program, which is currently a pilot program, and will be eligible to participate in the organization's summer programs.

Ms. Swisher said that Bay Area donors often ask, "Why are there so many youth-serving organizations?"

"Consolidation is something donors have been looking for," she said, adding that so far, news of the merger has been received favorably by donors. The decision to combine the organizations comes after only about two months of talks and negotiations, she said.

About three years ago, she said, Peninsula Bridge transitioned from its focus on middle school summer learning to a 12-year, year-round program, and it is currently doing a pilot program to see how best to support students who are in college.

Peninsula Bridge is based on a 12-year college access program in Seattle called Rainier Scholars, she said. That organization reports about a 90 percent success rate in their students graduating from college – a standard Peninsula Bridge seeks to replicate – compared to the 10 percent rate nationwide of college completion for students from low-income families who would be the first in their family to go to college.