TAAP: A Safe Space That Fosters Growth

Coming from a tight-knit immigrant family in South Central Los Angeles, Sara Bachez ’06 nervously awaited her first day at UC Berkeley. As the first member of her family to attend college, she didn’t know what to expect. Would she get along with her roommate? Could she handle the coursework at such a high-ranking university?

“TAAP provided opportunities and exposure, and the ability to be free to grow.”

Fortunately, Sara was an Alumni Scholar in The Achievement Award Program (TAAP). Within a few days of arriving at Berkeley, she participated in TAAP’s orientation—and her fears were immediately assuaged.

“Right away, I was able to build community and never really felt alone here,” says Sara. “I learned that TAAP has its own culture. It is first and foremost a nurturing, safe space. When I stepped through the doors for a TAAP activity, I knew I could be myself. Over the years, that was my place where I could calm down, not worry about grades or deadlines, and share my experiences with others who understood.”

When Sara was applying for colleges, UC Berkeley wasn’t on her radar. Her college counselor urged her to apply to many schools, including UC Berkeley, where she was accepted. But Sara wanted to go to a college near home so she could live with her family.

Then one day, her mother came home from work, excited, and handed her a baseball cap with “Cal” stitched on it. She had mentioned to her boss that her daughter had been accepted to the university. Her boss told her to buy a Cal hat and give it to Sara—her daughter was headed to the number one public university in the nation, he said!

Sara posing with her parents at graduation.

“By giving me that hat, my mom was granting me permission to go,” says Sara. “For a Latina in an immigrant family, that’s a very difficult decision to make. That was a beautiful moment.”

Sara was convinced that Cal was the right place for her when she first learned about TAAP. “It was the only program [among the college’s that accepted her] that not only provided a scholarship, but provided a built-in network and support system too,” she says.

That support system was very important to Sara, in part because of her family’s history. Sara’s parents had come to the United States from El Salvador in the late 1970s to escape the violence of the country’s impending civil war. They were planning on returning, but due to the unsettled situation in El Salvador, coupled with the promise of the American education system, they settled in the States. “My parents used to say, ‘In this world you could lose everything, but no one can take away your education,’” says Sara.

Sara began studying journalism, aspiring to become a political correspondent to ensure that her community had a voice. But as she began sampling courses at Cal, she changed her focus to education, and ended up with a degree in communications. She earned an MBA from Cal State Sacramento and today, Sara is the Assistant Executive Director of the California Association of School Business Officials in Sacramento.

Sara and her TAAP cohort at the TAAP program graduation reception.

Sara was active in TAAP beyond the required commitments. As the oldest of five girls, she was well prepared to mentor younger TAAP Scholars. She spoke to parents of incoming TAAP Scholars in Spanish, to reassure them that TAAP would make sure that their child would be well-protected and assisted in navigating Cal. She also volunteered to attend donor events and tell her personal story. “I wanted folks to know that we were so appreciative of their resources, and that we understood they were making a sacrifice on our behalf.”

She credits program staff members Joani Carpenter and Elizabeth Ramirez with setting the tone.

“Joani did a great job of helping us understand why it was important to reach back and help as many people who were following in our footsteps,” Sara says. “She and Elizabeth were very committed to the program. They were always available. If we had a personal issue, if we had a crisis, and we couldn’t attend an activity or needed leeway, they were very understanding—but they were also very firm. They recognized that we needed to understand the role and responsibilities of the program—but they did it all with compassion.”

Sara’s TAAP cohort getting ready for their bike ride through San Francisco.

For her cohort’s last activity, says Sara, they chose an activity that for her exemplified TAAP. The group rented bikes and rode throughout San Francisco.

“It was very difficult and scary to be bike riding on the Golden Gate Bridge on a windy day, but I think of that as my fondest memory,” she says. “Here was TAAP taking inner-city students on an adventure that they normally wouldn’t do. It’s not necessarily an expensive activity, but it is one that is full of privilege.

“It showed how TAAP gave us the opportunity to do things that otherwise we would not be privy to. The program provided opportunities and exposure, and the ability to be free to grow. This simple example showed how TAAP didn’t devalue or belittle our opportunities—it believed that we were capable of handling an activity that, while easy for some, was a frightening activity for many of us.”

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