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Friday, August 18, 2017

College Depot Motivates, Educates Future Students

College is more than just an application away and the College Depot, a service provided by the City of Phoenix Youth and Education Programs, is helping both traditional and non-traditional students get their proverbial foot in the door.

The Depot offers a free array of tools and services to anyone looking to attend college, regardless of where they’re from. Assistance includes college-planning resources, access to financial aid and scholarship searches, and help filling out college applications and financial aid forms. Regularly scheduled workshops, offered by both Depot staff and volunteer experts, include the basics of how to apply to college as well as presentations about the types of financial aid available.

“We help anyone who walks through our doors,” said Judy Reno, director of the College Depot, located on the 2nd floor of the City of Phoenix Burton Barr Central Library at 1221 N. Central Avenue.

When Deborah Dillon, education program director and the brains behind the project, brought the idea to the education community more than three years ago, she discovered that there was a definite need for college assistance.

According to Robert Olmos, one of the Depot’s two bi-lingual college advisors, area schools see an average of one academic counselor per 700 students – almost three times the standard ratio, which is one academic counselor to every 250 students.

For three years Dillon worked to raise funds. She succeeded in raising almost one million dollars from local groups and foundations to support operating costs for the next three years. Dillon also procured a Community Development Block Grant administered by the City of Phoenix to handle the initial cost for design, construction, technological resources and furniture for the Depot.

Since it opened on June 10th, the Depot has seen more than 800 visitors. According to Reno, the Depot has had an average of 10 to 15 walk-in visitors a day. In addition, as part of their partnering efforts with community youth organizations such as Boys and Girls Club and YMCA, the Depot also provide tours, workshops and presentations to teens.

For junior high and high school students, the Depot provides motivational workshops about the benefits of attending college and what students need to do to apply, test preparation resources, and tools to help them find the right college based on their career plans.

Using a combination of fun, interactive teaching tools like online scavenger hunts, one-to-one counseling and workshop presentations, the Depot not only helps future students figure out what they need to do to get into college and but also, what they can do to pay for it.

“The number one request for people coming in,” said Reno, “is finding financial aid and scholarship searches.”

But, the Depot is also starting to see individuals ask for help with the essays and personal statements many college and scholarship applications require.

“A lot of students get so intimidated by [the personal] essay that they don’t complete the application,” said Reno.

To further motivate and inspire future college students, the Depot will offer a Career Exploration series beginning in September. The goal is to introduce them to successful college graduates pursuing careers within their major. The set of presentations will feature accomplished community professionals alongside their academic counterparts. Together they will co-present details about earning a degree and what it meant for their chosen career path.

In addition to online resources, workshops and presentations, the Depot also offers access to two bi-lingual college advisors available at different times throughout the week. Advisors provide students one-to-one counseling on such topics as how to find the right school, locate financial aid opportunities such as grants, loans and scholarships and navigate through the various application processes.

“Our number one job is to disseminate as much as information as possible into easy-to-use segments,” said Olmos. “To let them know how the step-by-step process works and to make [them] feel at ease.”

The program is not just for students, but for their families as well.

“We want parents to also make the journey with their kids and be confident with [the process],” Olmos added.

The Depot has some of the latest in technological resources – offering 15 wireless laptops in their workshop room and 10 desktop computers. Depot visitors have unlimited use of computers for college and scholarship searches and they are able to print materials, including college applications for free.

The Depot matches the hours with the Burton Barr Central Library and makes its many resources available during evenings and weekends.

For more information about College Depot, visit online at www.phoenix.gov/collegedepot. They welcome walk-ins.

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