St Supéry #GivingTuesday Chats: 10,000 Degrees

Community-based organization helps low-income students enter college and thrive

Helping those less fortunate is a holiday tradition for many people across the county, and there’s no better way to honor the season of giving than to support organizations that give back all year long. Since 1981, 10,000 Degrees has worked to provide educational equity and support for students from low-income backgrounds in eight Bay Area counties. The organization not only helps high school students get into college, it provides assistance throughout their educational journey and beyond.

On a recent episode of the podcast series #GivingTuesday Chats, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery CEO Emma Swain discussed the important work of 10,000 Degrees with Kim Mazzuca, the nonprofit organization’s president and CEO since 1999.

A first-generation college graduate herself, Mazzuca knows first-hand the challenges and life-changing impacts of higher education.

“Given what’s going on in our world, education is absolutely essential,” Mazzuca told Swain. “It is inextricably linked to one’s quality of life, and to the health and the resiliency of our communities, our workplaces, our planet and our democracy.”

Mazzuca views 10,000 Degrees not only as an organization but a community of good people who care about others and believe in the right of all people to be able to live a healthy, happy and productive life.

Four Decades in the Making

The group was founded four decades ago by a group of community volunteers in California’s Marin County to support the educational needs of residents. In the beginning, the nonprofit served mainly as a technical scholarship processing center for college-bound students. However, when Mazzuca joined the organization, 10,000 Degrees began a strategic evolution.

“We made a very intentional and transformative shift to serve those students who needed us most,” she said. “Primarily, students who were coming from low-income backgrounds and students who had been traditionally underrepresented in higher education.”

Today the organization’s mission is about achieving educational equity and helping students get into and through college, so they can positively impact their communities and the world. 10,000 Degrees currently supports more than 12,000 high school students from low-income backgrounds as well as 3,000 students in college. More than 90% are from communities of color and are the first in their families to attend college.

College Education Changes Lives

Attending college not only helps the students, it can also elevate entire families by lifting them out of the lower-income bracket.

“The lifetime earnings potential of a college graduate compared to that of a non-college graduate is just exponentially different,” Swain said, especially for women.

“If you take a look at those coming from communities of color, it’s an even greater differential,” Mazzuca added, “and that wealth gap then continues to grow. What a college degree can do for a student coming from a low-income background is change everything, because it moves them from the low-income background to the middle-income bracket.”

Achieving and Measuring Success

Along with helping high school students get into college, 10,000 Degrees provides support to ensure that they complete their degrees. More than 80% of the program’s participants graduate with their four-year degrees in six years compared to only 54% for the national average. Through scholarships and financial aid, they also graduate with 88% less student loan debt than the average college student.

Graduates go on to work in many fields, including finance, technology and health care. “We have one alum right now who is working at Genentech,” Mazzuco said. “He’s on a research team that is probably going to land on the cure for macular degeneration.”

The organization achieves this impressive success rate through a fellowship program that provides mentorship. Embedded within 42 participating high schools, fellows are recent college graduates from similar lived experiences who return to 10,000 Degrees as paid interns. 10,000 Degrees currently has 54 fellows who help students with financial aid forms, college applications, choosing the right college, and even finding housing and transportation.

The work of the fellows became especially essential during the pandemic, when many students became depressed or disappointed in the college experience and were tempted to drop out.

“Our fellows have been there to help [students] navigate any extraordinary circumstance,” Mazzuca said, from the pandemic to wildfires to changes in financial circumstances. “It’s life changing when students and families have somebody who says, I believe in you, and you can do this.”

How to Support the Cause

For Mazzuca, the future of 10,000 Degrees is all about growing college success.

“It’s reaching as many students as we possibly can who are coming from low-income backgrounds and seeing their success,” she said. “I’m so excited about the future because we now have thousands of alumni and we really have strengthened the leadership bench both horizontally and vertically throughout the organization.”

Those who want to support the cause can do so in a variety of ways, she said. For example, high school teachers can help bring the program to their schools, and business leaders can become career mentors or volunteer to coach students in financial budgeting workshops. Additionally, supporters can become advisory board members in their communities.

People can also get involved through direct donations. Those who contribute $500 to 10,000 Degrees and note St. Supéry in their donation will receive an invitation to join Swain and fellow donors at the winery on June 16, 2023 for an intimate lunch paired with St. Supéry estate wines.

“It’s a good excuse to come to Napa Valley,” said Swain, “and I can’t think of a better way to use your holiday gifting money than supporting one of our amazing nonprofits.”

December 19, 2022

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