It's graduation time, and Wendy Tokuda is getting ready to walk. The former Bay Area television anchor and Montclair resident will be part of the June 22 third annual GRADWalk in Golden Gate Park in support of the charity she cofounded some 15 years ago -- Students Rising Above.
The name says it all. The students in this program rise above the stranglehold of abandonment, poverty, abuse and neglect. They stay focused on school, and their common goal is to go to college. Their challenges are formidable.
"Seventy-five percent of the students grew up below the federal poverty line, most do not have parents and almost all of them are the first in their family to go to college," Tokuda says.
The organization's goal for the coming year is to raise enough money to take 100 high school juniors into the program next year. In March, alone, they raised just short of $1 million. This money helps students not only prepare for college, (i.e. help with college applications and outside scholarships), but it assures students stay in school.
"We don't just give kids a check -- we help them graduate," Tokuda says. The foundation buys computers, helps with medical expenses and even the little things like sending students off with the right-sized sheets for their freshman dorms. "It's not like Mom and Dad can take them down to Target to get what they need. Some don't even know what they need."
Since cofounding the charity in 1998, Tokuda has been documenting the most compelling stories for KPIX Channel 5.
"Their leadership is born in the ghettos, barrios and homeless shelters of the Bay Area," she says. "They are all kids who want to give back, and they do."
She says college opens the most amazing doors for these students, who go on to law school, medical school, the Peace Corps and nonprofits in our poorest neighborhoods.
Twenty-five students graduated from college this year, thanks to Students Rising Above. As SRA continues to grow, Tokuda is in awe of its success.