Giving low-income kids a chance to excel with its scholarship program, and offering emergency relief funds and furniture to families within the community living at the poverty level, One Voice, a nonprofit organization in Santa Monica, works to better the quality of people’s lives, according to the organization.

“We don’t receive government money, so we make the decisions about who needs help and we get it to them quickly,” says Kathy Momii, One Voice associate director.

According to One Voice, with current political trends focused on cutting aid to the poor, the needs of disadvantaged families have grown.

Unanticipated situations such as illness and layoffs tax the financial means of families living at the poverty level, and most don’t have the monetary resources to get them through a crisis, according to One Voice.

One Voice’s Emergency Relief and Family Program acts on referrals from Head Start, a state and federal preschool program, and provides intervention and relief services to low-income families in immediate crisis, according to Kelli Paul, One Voice program coordinator.

Assistance is not set up to provide continuous funding, but One Voice intervenes to make critical rent payments, provide food to families and children who may not have eaten for days, turn on gas and electricity for people living without these necessities, and provide emergency relief payments for medical expenses, clothing and even funeral expenses, according to Paul.

One Voice accepts furniture, appliances, household goods and clothing year-round from individuals, schools, businesses and other organizations. These items are not sold but given directly to families in need, again referred through Head Start, according to Paul.

One Voice created its Robert W. Sanderson scholarship program because of its conviction that low-income students have the right, and should have the access, to higher education.

Paul says the colleges provide the scholarships but One Voice advises students personally about colleges and provides no-cost services such as an SAT preparation course, college essay instruction and tutoring, airfares and transportation, application and test fees, books, supplies, clothing and emergency expenses.

“We have 15 students in grad school and our first doctor graduated in June 2004 from Stanford Medical school,” Momii says. Other colleges that the organization’s students have attended are Amherst, Brown, MIT, Harvard and Yale.

Paul says getting accepted to college is half the battle and One Voice stays in touch with the students through e-mail and the phone, helping them cope with unforeseen challenges once they are in college.

“Many kids are the breadwinners in the family,” Paul says. “Some families aren’t comfortable with the child going away.”

Paul says that if there is a financial problem at home, sometimes the family will tell the child that they need to come home to help. In such a case, One Voice may step in and help the family with the Emergency Relief Fund.

“We offer the child encouragement so they can feel they’re doing the right thing by staying in school,” Paul says. Helping parents with this transition, One Voice arranges for parents whose children have been away to school to meet with parents whose kids are about to leave, to let them know it’s okay to let the child go, according to Paul. She says this helps the family understand what school will be like for the kids, which can set the parent’s mind at ease.

Students who have been away to school also talk with new students and give them advice about what to expect at college, according to Paul.

“It’s tough if 80 to 90 percent of the campus is white and you’re not,” she says. She adds that the program employs a psychological counselor who helps with emotional and cultural adjustments.

Some 95 percent of the students it helps remain in college, and One Voice believes its extensive personal attention and encouragement are part of the reason for the program’s enormous success. Its very low dropout rate of five percent is far below the approximately 60 percent national dropout rate for low-income minority students on scholarships throughout the United States.

“We follow the kids all the way through college, including graduate school,” Momii says.

Paul says One Voice works with 20 to 30 scholarship students a year and also helps to bring them home once a year for a family visit.

Other programs filling out One Voice’s services include summer camp, $35 scholarship cards, and holiday gift baskets and gift cards.

Information: (310) 458-9961 or www.onevoice-la.org

Julie Kirst can be reached at

Jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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