Summer Search - Linda Mornell
In October 2014, Give Greatly Founder Stefani Willis conducted a survey to gather thoughts and practices around charitable giving. As part of the survey, respondents were asked to name their favorite nonprofit organization. Of those organizations, one lucky nonprofit was chosen randomly to receive a $200 donation.
And the winner is . . . San Francisco’s own . . . Summer Search!
Summer Search was founded by Linda Mornell in San Francisco almost 25 years ago. It started as a program to send disadvantaged youth on summer wilderness trips to help build their self-confidence and sense of self-worth. The idea came to Linda as she sat in her car, waiting to pick up her children from their private high school in San Francisco. As she waited, she watched a scholarship student saying hello to the other students. His classmates smiled but passed him by, leaving the student alone. Growing up on a farm in Indiana, Linda knew what it was like to be on the outside. She also knew how her own children had benefitted from summer wilderness trips as they transitioned from life in a small, rural public school to private school in San Francisco. Linda wondered if a summer trip could help this young man, and if so, how she could send him on one.
In that moment, Summer Search was born. Even though Linda had no previous experience raising money, she was able to send 14 low-income teenages on residential summer programs that first year. While those first teenagers were forever changed by the experience, unfortunately, they faced the same challenges at home. Linda knew Summer Search had to do more.
The Summer Search program now works with each nominated student for seven to nine years, helping them become college and career ready. Students attend two summer programs and receive college and financial advising while in high school. Once they graduate from high school, they continue to receive college support and career exploration, and ultimately benefit from the program’s ever-growing alumni network.
Today, Summer Search is working with young people in seven US cities—Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, North Bay San Francisco, San Francisco, Seattle, and Silicon Valley. Summer Search served 5,200 young people in 2014—3,200 high school students and 2,000 alumni. Ninety-nine percent of program participants graduate from high school, 94 percent go to college, and 77 percent are on track to graduate from college. These figures are phenomenal, considering a 2014 U.S. News and World Report that said high school graduation rates in urban areas with low-income students are generally in the range of 60 to 70 percent.
These results gained the attention of Bill and Melinda Gates. From 2005 to 2011, Summer Search took part in a study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to better understand how organizations like Summer Search impact academic achievement. To help guide other organizations and individuals, Linda also recently wrote a book called Forever Changed, How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives (Triumph Books, March 2015).
Linda is an excellent example of someone who is Living Greatly. She saw a need in her community and took it upon herself to make a difference, despite having no fundraising background. I would like to thank her and her team for their amazing work to help teenagers in the United States break the cycle of poverty and gain the confidence and skills they need to succeed. For more information about Summer Search, please visit www.summersearch.org.