After a rapid infusion of funds, college counseling organization ReadySetLaunch is laying the groundwork for a secure future.
The organization, which recruits volunteers from its Yale and Brown University chapters to provide free counseling to high school students across the country, received almost $90,000 in grants in the past year alone. But from the start, efforts to draw mentees from the alma maters of its volunteers were foiled by “inconsistencies and instabilities” of high school guidance departments who failed to promote the program, said executive director and co-founder Jim Liu ’13. Now that ReadySetLaunch has raised enough money to sustain itself, the group is working to reach a larger number of students.
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“The grant money has freed up the brain power in the organization,” said Lucia Woo ’13, director of human resources at ReadySetLaunch. “It’s shifted the focus from securing funds to innovating and most effectively providing our services.”
After winning $62,000 from Chase Community Giving early last year and receiving a donation of $25,000 from the Sony and Intel Rocket Project last spring — plus an additional $1,000 from a Yale family foundation last winter — ReadySetLaunch tried to avoid spending all the money immediately, Liu said. Liu, originally a member of the class of 2012, took a semester off from Yale to devote more time to ReadySetLaunch. Now that he is a student once more, Liu said the organization may need to hire a full-time staff member to manage the organization — a salaried position that would rapidly deplete the group’s funding.
Jonathan Martin ’12, who has mentored a student through ReadySetLaunch since his freshman year, said the dynamic of the group has changed greatly since the acquisition of the grant money. The mentors now go on regular on-campus retreats funded by the grants, which Martin said “makes everyone bond.”
Martin added that he has only once drawn money from ReadySetLaunch funding in order to purchase SAT preparation books for his mentee, who is currently a senior from Georgia and has been accepted early to Georgia Tech.To provide more support to mentees, Liu said that ReadySetLaunch recently forged a deal with the local branch of Kaplan Test Prep to give free online SAT preparation materials to ReadySetLaunch students in exchange for distributing Kaplan promotional materials — such as free practice tests — to Yale students.
An urgent goal for the group, which operates online and by phone, is to build an interface to improve mentor-mentee communication, Liu said. Jared Shenson ’12, director of communications for ReadySetLaunch, said a system with forums and calendars would provide a “central hub” for mentors to connect with mentees. He added that the system will also “keep a pulse” on the organization. (Shenson is a former production and design editor for the News.)
ReadySetLaunch’s previous outreach efforts targeted mentors’ high schools but were relatively unsuccessful, Liu said. The group decided to shift resources towards non-profit groups that can guarantee a consistent flow of mentees to the organization.
David Walker, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of America - Los Angeles County Alliance, said ReadySetLaunch approached his group in November. Walker said he promoted the service to some of the 27 Boys and Girls Club organizations in Los Angeles County, adding that the service’s online ability is a plus.
“With the help of technology, we can make the world a little smaller,” Walker said. “We can have Yale students mentoring inner-city LA high school students.”
The group is also seeking a partnership with New Haven’s Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, which has already implemented College Summit, a college preparation service. Veronica DeLandro, College Summit program manager in charge of operations in Connecticut, said that there is “excitement and buzz” among New Haven’s high school students following the creation of the New Haven Promise this fall.
Kirsten Levinsohn, co-executive director of free tutoring service New Haven Reads, said she approached ReadySetLaunch in November. After creating a successful SAT preparation course for her students, Levinsohn said she was worried that the participants would need more help when applying to college — an area beyond the expertise of New Haven Reads.
“Especially with the New Haven Promise, many high school students are interested in applying to college,” Levinsohn said. “I approached ReadySetLaunch because I was concerned the kids who took our SAT prep class still needed a lot of support beyond that.”
Liu said that the organization has already received five mentee applications from New Haven Reads students — a significant number given that the group received 21 applications in total last semester.
Four of 17 Yale students interviewed said they were familiar with ReadySetLaunch, but most students said the group’s cause is worthwhile.
“There are so many large high schools in which the hired college counselors are assigned more students than they could ever possibly give the necessary attention required,” said Camille Buchanan ’12, who had heard of the organization previously. “Having another resource — like this program — is definitely needed in many schools.”
High school students must submit online applications for mentorship through ReadySetLaunch by Feb. 1.
Zeenat Mansoor contributed reporting.