Every year, our organization has a theme. In 2019, our theme was “rewriting the narrative.” Our students grow up a stone’s throw away from incredible higher education institutions like Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, and yet they grow up not believing those institutions are meant for them. We at JOYA Scholars simply believe in bringing in the right people, at the right time, to have the right conversations with our kids, and to this end, rewrite the narrative in their lives so that they believe those schools (and greater opportunities beyond education) belong to them. Our students know where they want their stories to end, but they don’t quite know how they’re going to get there.


Maggie, a Garnet neighborhood resident, graduated this year from El Dorado High School. As a sophomore, she became a scholarship fellow of the nationally recognized Reagan Student Leadership Program, which aids students who desire to address issues within their own communities. As a junior, she planned a community service project to clean Pearl Lot, an abandoned, trash-filled lot in the Garnet neighborhood.


Despite knowing full well that in a matter of days, trash would inevitably return to the lot, Maggie led the clean up on a Saturday in April with fellow students and her JOYA mentor, Sadia. As we cleaned, neighbors asked if we were with the City, and if we knew of plans to renovate the lot into a park. Maggie said no, unfortunately we were just here for the day.


When Maggie became a senior, the City of Fullerton announced that they had received funding to build Pearl Park, and the neighborhood rejoiced. Instead of trash, needles, and abandoned cars, our community would finally have a small, but peaceful place to gather away from the congested housing complexes and streets.


Maggie wanted our city to see her neighborhood as she sees it, beautiful and worth the time and resources. She never expected the lot to become a park, but she knew the value of committing herself to her ideals and playing even a small part in sharing her vision with her community. She knew where she wanted this story to end, but she just didn’t quite know how she was going to get there.