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062: Sherry Smith – Helping Under-Resourced Students Create Their Own Journey to Success

Sherry Smith is the Executive Director of Berkeley Community Scholars, where she creates pathways for deserving, but under-resourced, students. With thirty-five years spent in education, Sherry focuses on college selection, college admission, financial aid, and matriculation, especially in underserved, under-resourced, and first-generation college students.

Today, she joins the show to talk about the inspirational work she is doing at Berkeley Community Scholars, the value of a college degree, and the inequality of college access and how she and her team are trying to combat it.

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Key Takeaways

00:49 – Jonathan introduces today’s guest, Sherry Smith, who joins the show to talk about her first recollections of money and her career in education before joining Berkeley Community Scholars

13:46 – Helping under-resourced kids achieve a college degree

20:16 – Statistics on inequality of college access

28:52 – Advisors and mentors

33:45 – The necessity of resourcefulness

46:55 – One piece of advice for high school students preparing to enter college and one thing to completely ignore

51:46 – How to support Berkeley Community Scholars

53:58 – The last thing Sherry changed her mind about

54:25 – Jonathan thanks Sherry for joining the show and lets listeners know where to connect with her

Tweetable Quotes

“From that, I decided that, if I wanted to do education – which I really wanted to do – then I needed to become even more educated in ways that I could actually be more impactful for more people than just the students that I was seeing.” (08:33) (Sherry)

“We want everyone to be able to go and get a college degree. And we are unapologetic that we think a college degree allows a student to have a fighting chance to have success in their life. And they get to decide what that success is.” (14:19) (Sherry)

“When you said, ‘What are you trying to solve?’ There are so many ‘isms’ in our country. Racial equity is a huge one. Economic insecurity is another one. Gender is another. We’re trying to make sure that our students feel full no matter who they are, where they come from, or what their circumstances are.” (16:06) (Sherry)

“Yes, you have to be resourceful, otherwise you die. Yes, you have to be creative because otherwise you die. You figure it out and you have to figure out, at some point, how you emotionally deal with that.” (34:13) (Sherry)

“It’s having those kind of conversations with our scholars, which is really both fun and enlightening, but also allows all of us to step back and say, ‘We’re really that piece of sand, but how do we make the difference while we’re here for ourselves, and then build the community that is really rich, not so much in things, but in each other?’” (38:07) (Sherry)

“Try something new. Go out there and meet other people on your floor. Join that club. Go do something that you have no idea what that is just to get your mind and your juices flowing and you’ll realize, ‘Oh wow! I didn’t know that even existed.’” (47:33) (Sherry)

“Take the time to find what you really love because if you love something, it doesn’t become so much about work. It becomes, ‘How do I fit into community? How do I make my community and life better?’ So, find that because you’ll willing to work hard at that.” (48:17) (Sherry)

Guest Resources

Sherry’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sherry-ann-smith-50188111/

Sherry’s Email: sherry@berkeleyscholars.org

Berkeley Community Scholars Resources:

Wesite: https://berkeleyscholars.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/berkscholars/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/berkscholars/?hl=en

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/berkeley-community-scholars

Books Mentioned:

The Start of a Whole New You: https://www.amazon.com/Start-Whole-New-You-Wholeness/dp/1709356235

Mindful Money Resources

For all the free stuff at Mindful Money: https://mindful.money/resources

To buy Jonathan’s first book – Mindful Money: https://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Money-Practices-Financial-Increasing/dp/1608684369

To buy Jonathan’s second book – Mindful Investing: https://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Investing-Outcome-Greater-Well-Being/dp/1608688763

Subscribe to Jonathan’s Weekly Newsletter: https://courses.mindful.money/email-opt-in

Capture the most important benefit of an advisor – behavioral support – without the 1% fee: https://courses.mindful.money/membership

For more complex, one on one financial planning and investing support with Jonathan or a member of Jonathan’s team: https://www.epwealth.com/our-team/berkeley/jonathan-deyoe/

Website: https://mindful.money

Jonathan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathandeyoe

Episode Transcription

Jonathan DeYoe: Hey, welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money podcast, I’m chatting with Sherry Smith. With 35 years in education, Sherry focuses on college selection, college admission, financial aid, and matriculation, especially in underserved, underresourced, and first generation college students. I wanted to have her on the show because she’s the executive director of Berkeley Community Scholars, where she creates pathways for deserving but underresourced students in my own backyard. Full disclosure. Berkeley Community Scholars is one of the three organizations that mindful money supports in our mission to bridge the wealth gap. Now, when someone takes a course, attends a boot camp, or becomes a member of Mindful money, some of the cost of their programs goes to support scholarships at Berkeley community scholars. Sherry, thanks for joining us today. Welcome to the Mindful Money podcast.

Sherry Smith: Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Jonathan DeYoe: First, where do you call home, and where are you connecting from today?

Sherry Smith: So I live in San Leandro, California, about 20 minutes to work from Berkeley and been here since 1980, and, well, actually been in the Bay Area since 1978. I went to college at Santa Clara University, and, uh, I went to grad school and then came back to the Bay Area and then raised my kids here and have lived here for almost 40 years. Wow.

Jonathan DeYoe: Did you grow up here or did you grow up someplace else?

Sherry Smith: I grew up in southern California, so I grew up in Long beach for the first part of my life, and then we moved to Los Angeles when I went to high school.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, my firm, the EP wealth, where I do the wealth management, they just had their annual shindig, the summit, where teaching classes, everyone gets to meet everybody in Long beach. So I didn’t get to go because, as you know, my back has got problems. So I had to lay down for three days instead of go to this thing, and I missed out. It’s okay. So most of your adult life has been in Bay area.

Sherry Smith: Yeah, I left Southern California when I was 18 to go to college and really have been in the Bay area ever since. I hiatus to Boston for a couple of years, grad school, and then back down to Southern California for my husband’s grad school. But then we ended up right back here.

Jonathan DeYoe: It’s tough to leave this place.

Sherry Smith: Yeah, it’s a hard place to. We decided we wanted to raise kids in northern California, not southern California. So we made the commitment to stay here.

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m curious, growing up in southern California, not that this is specific to something, but as a kid, what did you learn about money? What did you learn about personal finance as a kid?

Sherry Smith: I can say I don’t really have a memory of money at all. Both my parents worked really hard. My mom was a teacher. My dad didn’t go to college, and we didn’t do chores and get money that way. I remember kind of the first time thinking about money and how to use it and how to have to be responsible was before my brother. I have a twin brother, and before we went to college, my mom sat us down six months before and said, okay, you’re paying our bills. Not literally like that. We had to go work and pay the bills, but she sat us down and we had to write all the checks. So it was like we didn’t know how to fill out a check. And so we did that for six months. We had to go back and forth and look at all the different things that they had to pay for, and it was overwhelming. And I didn’t know how to drive. I didn’t get my driver’s license until three weeks before I went to college because I was scared of driving in LA. My parents took care of us. And, uh, again, it was for me just now that I know. It was just. I don’t know how they did it with the work that they did, but they did, and they were incredible and we’re wonderful, and we had a great childhood. But now that I know and see what other people have had, it was like, wow, this was, uh, a very different life.

Jonathan DeYoe: I’ve never heard anyone say. My parents sat me down before I went to college, and for six months they had me write the checks so that you could see every little expense, because just for listeners who aren’t of age, aren’t as old as we are, there was a time when it all came out of the same checking account. There wasn’t any PayPal or Venmo or all the checking accounts. You got to see it was all checks. Like, there was no automatic payment or anything like that. So you saw every expense?

Sherry Smith: Absolutely. And there was no atms. And my mom, every year for our birthdays, would give us a bond and I didn’t know what that was, but we found those actually, a little while ago and then found the bonds that she gave to my kids in cards that we cleaned out our garage. It was hilarious. And they were like, what are these? And I’m like, I don’t know if I even really know what those are today. But, yeah. So we certainly weren’t talking about savings and no understanding at all of, uh, investments.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, that just makes you normal. Not many families talk about investments. And we did, but I’m a weird, weird, weird kid for that. Do you remember any stories of shopping? Like, mom, I want this. No, you can’t have that. Or mom, I want this. Yes, let’s buy that. When did you first realize that money was an important piece?

Sherry Smith: I probably say more towards high school because we grew up in Long beach until I was 13. Like I said, my mom was a teacher and then she was a principal, and I think we were just exposed to what we could do. So it wasn’t really a huge thing. We went on one vacation a year. We drove, usually to Canada, stopped in Sacramento, stopped at Crater Lake. First time I got on a plane, I was twelve, and we went to Hawai. That was the only vacation we ever actually took as a family on a plane. So I don’t really remember a lot of money until I got to high school. Then I was student body president in my high school, and then I had to be in charge of all of the student body funding. And then I had to kind of figure things, you know, my parents would take us to the garment district once a year in LA to buy our clothes for school. And that was the one time we’d go shopping. My mom made all of our clothes because she loved to sew. So money was not the source or the central part. Again, I would say, until we got to college and then realizing, oh my gosh, who comes up with at that point, $15,000 at one time to spend on a, uh, college expense? We went to public high school, so we didn’t learn that expense. I didn’t even know there was private high schools until I was a junior in high school. And then I’m like, oh, other people do other things, right? So not a great deal of understanding of the flow and the importance of what money allows you to do, which for me, at this point, it buys you time.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. It’s interesting. I hear some stories where people are told, no, a lot. They don’t have any resources, and so then they really do understand the lacking of resource and what that does. There’s something beautiful about. I like to see people get a lot of education when they’re younger, more education when they’re younger about these things from their family. But there’s something beautiful about protecting you from the issues, because it just sort of becomes overwhelming when you graduate from college and you have to take care of this stuff. And it’s probably better to build into it a little bit, but have a childhood, don’t necessarily have to worry about it and just be exposed, what you could do. I kind of like that as a path. Before we talk about Berkeley community scholars, tell us, just from a work perspective, what led you there? What was the development process that said, you know what, I’m going to lead this organization in Berkeley, California.

Sherry Smith: I feel like this is sort of the culminating thing of what I’m doing. I mean, I spent my early career working at the college where I went as an admissions counselor, and I was well aware of money by then in terms of just how can I afford rent? I didn’t have a car. I, uh, saved for eight months to finally get a car and not have to take the bus to work every day. And I think from that, I decided that I needed to get, if I wanted to do education, which I really believe that I wanted to do, that I needed to become even more educated in ways that I could actually be more impactful for more people than just the students that I was seeing. And I was seeing them too late. I mean, talking to seniors in high school, and I covered the western United States. So I traveled for about 1012 weeks out of the year all over the western United States. And I was just saddened by what people didn’t have access to at that moment because they just weren’t prepared. And so into grad school, came back and went from the college side to the high school side, and was an admissions counselor for high school students. And I would say over the course of 20 years, I went from high school admissions to middle school admissions to kindergarten admissions, and then finally said, I need to be able to wrap my arms around family. So I went to the community based organization system and was there for another 20 years, really trying to find the core of what you need in order to make decisions for yourself and your family, that it’s going to allow you to be sustainable for yourself and your family. And that didn’t for me, still have the whole idea of how do you take care of money in mind. I was still thinking of, uh, how do you take care of yourself socially, emotionally, and get yourself educated so that you can make choices. But the money piece of it became incredibly awakening when I had my own kids and had to realize that, huh, my entire paycheck, my first five years of having kids, went to daycare. And so I kept asking, like, why am I working? Because literally every dime except I think, $22 of, uh, my take home was paying for their childcare, and yet I couldn’t afford not to work. So for me, that became this. Like, wait, how do people do this? How do you have food on the table? How do you live someplace? How do you make sure your kids are fine during the day while you go to work? How does that all work? So I became pretty astute at figuring out what I needed to do in order to make those things happen. And to this day, I am the person in the family old school. I have a notebook, I write down every check number. I still write checks. I have what my balances are for every single bill that I do. I have probably, ah, 20 to 25 books when I go back. And I save them all, I have them in a folder. And ironically, I did the exact same thing that my parents did when my kids went off to college. I made sure that they sat down and wrote the bills. And they absolutely hated it, because then they started feeling guilty. They realized, too. And again, by that time, I had understood money, obviously, hopefully much more. Uh, we sent our kids to private school. They got an 80% scholarship to go to high school in, uh, Oakland, and realized that they were the have nots in their situation, even though they, even to this day, will say we had everything we needed, because, again, because I was, and my husband similarly, too, he grew up in northern California with a parent that was a police officer and a parent that was a teacher. So again, we grew up similar economic stance. So there wasn’t a lot of asking for what we couldn’t have, because he just knew that. But as we became adults, and then you start saying, well, gosh, if you want to travel, if you want to get a different car, if you want to buy a bigger house or even be able to buy a house, what do you need to do? And so having my kids not really be a part of that until they were then in high school, and understand that because we never moved. I live in the exact same house that I bought in 1990, where we have one neighbor that’s been here longer. Everybody else, the houses have flipped four or five times. Uh, it’s a two 1200. Our kids going to high school, to private school. Nobody came to our house because they thought they were coming to a scary neighborhood. So kids, we took our kids to everybody else’s house in the Berkeley Hills and the Oakland Hills and Moran. And so my kids were very well aware that they were the less than, but they didn’t feel that way at home. And to me, that’s what was important, and that’s what I love about our program, is know we have all these images and thoughts about how people feel if they don’t have money. But the amount of love and support and care and kindness that families do for each other, I think even more so when you don’t have all these means, is quite remarkable.

Jonathan DeYoe: I came from a family of. We were less than as well. We were on the rich side of town, but we were the poor kids on the rich side of town, so we weren’t on the other side of town. We could always say that we were that respect, but I came away just feeling horrible about it. And I had great love for my parents and all those kinds of things. But it’s interesting how different people develop with similar backgrounds, or what is the thing that makes somebody go a certain way. I kind of want to get into this when we’re talking about Berkeley community scholars, because I know that creating more equitable outcomes is sort of the vision, it’s sort of what the goal is with the providing of the scholarships. But could you just, first of all, describe fundamentally what the problem is that you’re solving for with Berkeley community scholars?

Sherry Smith: Well, it’s multiple problems, really, that we’re working on. But the simplest way to say is that we’re trying to give all students an opportunity, particularly from Berkeley High. We are very Berkeley centric if they have the dream, and even if they don’t have the dream, because they just don’t think it’s in their wheelhouse or that they have the right steps to get there. We want everyone to be able to go and get a college degree, and we are unapologetic that, uh, we think a college degree allows a student to have a fighting chance to have success in their life, and they get to decide what that success is. But for us both, economic success, emotional success, health success, relationships, we find, and again, all the reports that students who have a college degree less likely to be unemployed, less likely not to have health care, less likely to go through messy relational situations, not saying we’re all human. We all do that. But how you live and work through those things is very different when you have a bigger life perspective. And we believe that’s what really college does. So, simply, we’re trying to give kids that experience, thus allowing them to walk into life after college and set themselves up for at least financial stability, so that the other things in their life can also happen in a more positive way.

Jonathan DeYoe: So you meet a bunch of kids, some of which think, college isn’t really in my future. It’s not even that they have thought about it and have decided it’s not possible for them. It’s just they haven’t really even thought about it. How do you give somebody that gift of, uh, hey, you can go to college. Have you ever thought about going to college? How do you bridge that?

Sherry Smith: Yeah. And again, that’s a little bit of my dream. So, to be honest with you, so we don’t really get involved with the kids until they’re seniors in high school. So they’ve already gone through that process. I mean, one of the things I’d like to do in the near future is get in and start talking to eigth and 9th graders. But I’m also very careful not to step on toes of other organizations and also just the school systems that oftentimes have people coming in and then telling their kids all these stories. And then again, nobody else really being able to make the steps to actually allow that to happen. When you said, what are you trying to solve? Well, I mean, there are so many isms in our country, so racial equity is a huge one. Economic insecurity is another one, gender. So we’re trying to make sure that our students feel whole, no matter who they are, where they come from, and what their circumstances are. So I’ve made it real clear. I’ve been at Berkeley community school since 2019, and I left a big organization that was serving a lot more kids and had a lot more money, but I was missing that interpersonal connection. And to me, that’s what makes it important, what makes it tough to do this kind of work, and particularly in the United States or California, even the Bay Area, is we became these boutique little organizations because we can only help so many kids depending on how much money we raise. Right? And so it’s another conversation for another day about how I feel about the nonprofit sector and the fact that those of us, we have to just keep chasing money all the time rather than actually doing the work. So I don’t get to spend a whole lot of time at this point, with kids. But I have a great team. It’s a small team of five that do spend time, and then they call me in all the time, so I get my little fixes on that. But I wish I could spend even more time, but I’ve got to spend most of my time going and asking people to support us financially. And that’s what other nonprofits have to do. And so you have a love for the cause that you do. And so for me, that’s why I can do the work. I’m not just asking people for money for money sake. It’s like, hey, you want to help a kid, great. If you don’t, great. See, I’m moving on. I’m going to go find somebody else who does. And that’s how I look at it. So I don’t feel like I’m not this development person that goes from company to company or nonprofit to nonprofit. I have stayed very true to education. I’ve stayed very true to believing in helping the kids who are the most marginalized, who I want to give that fighting chance so that they can turn around and help the next generation or the next cousin or the next neighbor, so that we can actually build a community that is really fair and sensible and caring for everyone. And so that’s the big picture we’re trying to solve in Berkeley, community scholars is, how do we make the city of Berkeley actually live what they think they live? Which is like, oh, we care about everybody, and everybody’s the same, and everybody has an equal opportunity, because none of that’s know, the zip code you live in makes a huge difference. What color you are makes a big difference. The gender you make, what lifestyle you lead. So none of that is super true. But when we have a kid that’s wrapped around our services, we do everything in our power, and we’re also really honest, like, we’re human, and we’re going to make mistakes, and we’re going to do some things that probably still make you feel less than call us on that. Call us in, not out, is the new kind of expression, and let us figure out how together, we can make this place better for everybody. So that’s what called me to Berkeley. It’s small enough that I could wrap my. I can know, and I don’t know all 125 kids right now, but I could. And, um, I do get to see kids one on one every once in a while, and I can wrap myself around a city that actually has the power and the potential and at least the intellectual desire to actually create an environment that is right and safe and fair and equitable for everyone who lives here.

Jonathan DeYoe: I don’t want to ask the hard question. I’m going to ask the hard question because I think Berkeley, I love Berkeley. When I first came here as a student at the graduate theological union, I joined 24 hours fitness, and I was on a treadmill, and next to me on a different treadmill was, who’s the short guy? That was the head of economics for Clinton economic department. It was, uh, oh, I forget his name. It’s just escaping me.

Sherry Smith: I was going to say, rob somebody.

Jonathan DeYoe: So it’s like, you can go out in Berkeley and you can be, I play soccer with a Nobel Prize winner. Like, I play soccer with people that have won the touring award. There’s so much intellectual capacity, and so many people have such big hearts. But then you look at the struggle that’s gone on with Berkeley High for 50 years about the inequity of outcomes. And even with busing, even with all the things based on basically the zip code, or if you live in the hills or the flats or south or north, it makes a huge difference. So can you just talk to some of those statistics around, and, uh, you probably know them specifically from Berkeley, but I’m also thinking nationally around college access, success rates, and just the inequality to start.

Sherry Smith: Yeah. And again, I think when the organization revised itself in 2008, it became very clear that the students that we were going to serve going forward were students from Berkeley High. Again, it’s going to be very Berkeley centric. That had three demographics that described them, right. So they were living in the lowest economic know. They used to say, we’re serving low income kids. And I said, a kid is not a low income. Like trying to not put a definition on a kid when it’s really a circumstance, right? And we have notions about how we feel. When somebody says, oh, you live in a marginalized community, or you live in the ghetto, or you live in the hood or whatever, all these words have some baggage to them that all of us will think about in a different way. I’ve actually done a great exercise with our board, and I’ve written up, like, ten words, black, white, Latino, Mexican American, Middle Eastern, Oakland, berkeley, and said, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? And it is so powerful because people are like, what’s not really what I think? But when I know what other people think this way, and I’m like, I didn’t ask what other people thought. You chose those words up there. And then I make people go and say, which one are those are positive, which ones are negative, which ones are neutral? It’s a powerful, powerful exercise, if you ever want me to do that for anybody. It’s a great conversation, both starter and continuation. I now say again, the lowest economic quartile, that’s, uh, who we serve. Students are the first in their generation to complete a degree. So no one above them generationally has gotten a degree, and students who are underrepresented in college graduation rates. And for us, that is black and brown children, it is southeast asian. So you’ve got your know, your laoshan, your men, your Thai, your Filipino, like that group of students, which is not overly populated, actually, in Berkeley, who is chinese, japanese, Korean, not so much Japanese anymore. So we look at that when we serve our students and have to make some harder choices and who we put in our group, we’re looking at, uh, does a student meet all three or at least two of those demographics? In our country, more and more kids are going to college. That is a fact than ever before. More and more students are going to college who can’t afford to go to college. So that’s an interesting phenomenon for colleges because they used to have a white middle and upper middle class population of students going to their universities and colleges, and now they’re looking at 40% to 50% of that population being students of color. One, two, probably 60% of that population is now students that cannot afford to pay full freight. And three, now they’re different demographics. And do they have any representation, or do they even have any cultural awareness and understanding of what that student needs or wants? And so because of all that, you have less than 15% of that population of students actually getting a degree in this country? 15%. And it has not changed in 50 years. It started at about six or 7% in 1950, and it’s gone to 15%. 2020, I think, is the last time we have stats, which will probably mean it’s gone even further down if we start going down with looking at black and brown children. Right? So that’s huge for us. And our kids with our Demographics are graduating at 73%. So we know what we’re doing is working, and it’s more than money. And so that’s, for me, when I think about how I grew up, but also just community and the kids that we serve, it is about creating, having an advisor, having someone to talk to. So our college advising system is absolutely essential. That person stays with the same kid the entire time through their college journey. It’s hugely important, and it is what our kids say when they graduate is why they graduated. Yes. The money certainly helps, and it means they don’t have to work that second or third job. It means that, oh, my God, I didn’t have book money. Oh, gosh, yes, I did. I have this $1,000. Oh, now I can have books, right? But we get creative and say, don’t go buy your books. Go rent them at the library. Save that money and do something else. We can get very creative and help our students stretch their dollars. I would also say that our mentors, who, again, people who live in the community for the most part, but you can also now live anywhere, because our kids are all over the country, and we do all this. We do a lot of remote work, right, instead of face to face, because our kids are all over the country having somebody who’s not a family member, the thing our kids say over and over and over again, and you can notice I call them kids because I’m older. But is that having somebody believe in me when I stop, in myself? So when all these obstacles get in the way, I can’t pay my health bill, somebody gets sick of the family, and I have to go home, and I have to stop out a year if I flunked my class, because I couldn’t find the books, and they were all out of the library. And so I was just guessing. You name it, like, the list goes on and on and on. You’ve got an advisor who’s walking by you, who’s been through it as well, but is going to help you go through that. You’ve got a community mentor that says, yeah, God, I remember that happened to me, too, or, wow, I never thought about that. I didn’t have to think about that. Let’s think about how we could maybe solve that. Right? You have that. The third thing that we do is now career readiness, because what we are finding is our students who are going to college, they’re getting a degree. 75% of our kids walk out, have a degree, and they can’t find a job, and, uh, not find a job in their field that they got a degree in because they didn’t play the game. They didn’t do internships. They don’t have networking. They don’t have the ability to job shadow. So we create that for them with both our mentors and with our connections in the community so that our students have that middle class, upper middle class experience and can say, oh, yeah, I’m applying as accountant. And, oh, by the way, I interned at these two places. And I can. Give me some problem sets. I can do that for you. Right. In real time, in a real situation, rather than, yeah, I took an accounting class. That’s all I know. Right? And so we’re doing much more of that because our kids were like, I’m going to college. I’m graduating. And my best friend who didn’t go to college is the barista at Starbucks. And now I’m working for them because that’s the only place that I could go get a job. So I’m making $3 less an hour than they are. And they’ve been working five years more than I have. And actually, now they get to move out of their house because, uh, they’ve been working and they can be on their own, or I’m going back to my childhood bedroom just like so many other people are doing. Right. And it doesn’t really matter economically where you are. It’s just hard to get out on your own in the Bay area. And then the last, obviously, is our scholarship. So our scholarship is up to $16,000 over their college experience. And we also have some sidebars. So if a student gets an emergency student has a toothache, doesn’t have a dentist, needs to have a tooth pulled, and needs to happen next week, they can come to us and say, I need $375, can you help? I actually have a fund set aside called emergency funds. I lost my job, or I got laid off and I can’t pay rent. I need $800 tomorrow. Can you help me? Right. We usually don’t move that quickly, but within three to seven days, kids, it’s a simple application. So it’s not just like, call me, I’ll give you the money. It’s, hey, talk through this. Their advisor, they talk to their mentor, then they get to me and I get a recommendation of how much we should give that kid. Okay? And the last is a finish line fund. So if a kid, by the time they’re in their fourth year of college, realize I’m not getting there, I’m not going to graduate in June, I still need these five classes. I fluck these two classes, so I have to retake those before I can do this, whatever the case. And again, we know all this because we do academic planning with our students every year. Um, we call it as a student education plan. And so my advisors can come to me at any time and say, looks, um, like I’m going to have about ten kids who aren’t going to make it after four years, or I’ve got five kids who are taking the year off because too much is going on and they’ve lost a sibling or their parents sick and they need to be full time care. Like whatever the situation. Great. Pause, pause, pause. And then call us back in the summer and we’ll get you back going in the following year. So we do all of that.

Jonathan DeYoe: What are some of the unique things that I’m imagining first in family to go to college. Like my parents went to college, they could give me kind of a story. It’s really tough. Make sure you got to be on the day to sign up for your classes. It’s going to be confusing. This is something you’re going to run into. You may not get the class you want. This is what you think about is never like, how do they get that information? Is that something that the coaching gives them or is there other issues that they face as first and family? It’s got to be pretty tough. First and family going to college these days.

Sherry Smith: It’s really tough. I mean, what’s really nice is most colleges have a, ah, first gen program, a first generation program. So there’s actually an office there. Students can go and ask any question they want. I mean, they can do that anywhere in the college. But again, it’s where do you feel safe and where do you trust that someone’s not going to ridicule you or shame you or all those different kinds of things which then get into the whole social emotional situation. Right? So we are there. So our summer orientation is all about that. I mean, here’s a glossary. What’s a unit? How many units do you need to graduate? What’s a major, what’s a minor? Uh, study abroad. What do you mean? What’s a portal? We literally break down and say, this is what it’s going to be. You’re not walking through a high school door and having walking into your first class and they’re just like, here’s your book, here’s this, here’s your pan. You have to create the journey. So we do that. We have a pretty extensive summer orientation program. It’s gotten smaller and smaller, but we do. And then we also have a mentor handbook. And so the mentor is also being educated and reminding them like, hey, in case you forgot that you didn’t know that you need to do this. We do newsletters every month. So hey, don’t forget your financial aid is due in two months. Get on it. We’ll remind them. Um, don’t forget, housing application, first come, first serve. If you want to get into housing. Hey, your rent might be. Your lease is up. You got to redo your lease every year. It’s not automatic, right? So all those kinds of things is exactly why the advisor and mentor part of our program works. Because kids hopefully don’t get caught into, like, oh, my God, the day before this is going to end. Because most kids, if that happens, that’s who walks away from college. Right? And even our staff, half, uh, my staff is working a second job because that’s what you have to do to live in the Bay area. If you’re 25 to 35, which is crazy, half the staff is our students. So they’ve been there, done that, but they’re also sticklers about, like, get your stuff together. Like, yeah, that’ll happen to us, too. And here’s what it takes. But it’s also not that. Put on your boots and strap yourself up and let’s go. Because we also know all these isn’ts get in the way. You didn’t get that job interview because your name is x, y, and z. So you didn’t even make it across to get any interview because someone couldn’t pronounce your name right. You interviewed and didn’t know what to wear. And so you wore jeans and a t shirt, and you really should have had a button down shirt. Know, and at least a backpack looking like you knew what you were. Know. You don’t know what a job shadow like, this is why, for us, getting kids, like, here’s what the work world looks like. Outside of being an Uber driver, outside, know, working at Taco Bell, outside of working at, like, here’s what it really means if you’re going to go into a more. And I hate the word professional, but a different kind of setting. And so we talk about all that, and we talk about all the different things you’re going to run into, like, people. If you walk in the door and you’re a black male and you’re 64. Yeah. You’re going to scare people because that’s, um, what we do in society. We already have this image of, like, the first thing that’s going to come in their mind is, I’m scared versus God, what a wonderful young man. Or you happen to be an asian descent and you have an accent, and they’re going to be like, oh, yeah, they just don’t get it. Where they could be a biochemist and be brilliant. Right? So helping our kids understand, don’t personalize that, uh, to allow that to stop you from moving ahead. And then how do you make sure as you get your foot in the door that you allow others to come behind you and not feel that way because you’re not taking on that same Persona that we’ve created in the United States for four or 500 years. Right? We do some simple things, but they’ve got lots of legs underneath them.

Jonathan DeYoe: I have this question. I’m sensitive to this as an insensitive question. So if I had a choice, I would choose to have resources. If I had the.

Sherry Smith: I’m, um.

Jonathan DeYoe: There’s this quote from Warren Buffett, and Warren Buffett, obviously is one of the most resourced people in the world, right? And he said something like, I want to give my kids enough so they feel they could do anything, but not enough so they can do nothing. So that sort of suggests there’s this fear of people that have money, that their kids are going to be lazy, do nothings. Right. I’m wondering if being underresourced, you end up with a benefit. It’s underweighted relative to having resources. But I wonder if you have this ingenuity, resourcefulness, resilience in the face of difficulty that you develop because it’s hard. And, uh, I wonder if you just touch on that. And I realize it’s an insensitive question, and I apologize for that.

Sherry Smith: I would say yes, yes and yes. But it doesn’t mean that it makes life any easier, right?

Jonathan DeYoe: No, of course not.

Sherry Smith: Yes, you have to be resourceful, otherwise you die. Yes. You have to be creative, because otherwise you die. You figure it out, and you have to figure out at some point how you emotionally deal with that once you get out in the world and realize just the incredible disparity, right. And it never leaves you. So I was talking to a board member the other day who happens to be an immigrant, been here for 40 years, but they said, I’ve never lost what it feels like to always be scrambling and not have enough. So I’m always holding on to more than I probably should, because my fear is what happens when that all goes away, right? And it’s funny, uh, my husband and I were just talking to our kids last night, and I have two daughters that are in their. Both had their first children, and we were just talking about how different sort of the world is and how they want to live and how they want to grow up. And they both made the decision not to move back to California because they couldn’t afford it. It breaks our heart, and that’s true of so many other people. But I would say, like talking to the board member was like, oh, yeah, that’s too bad. I’m like, no, I don’t get to see my grandkids grow up. Not because by choice, but because they can’t come back here and even buy our house of, uh, 1200. See, Leandro and live. And they’re both full time workers. Everybody’s got a degree. One kid with a master’s, but one’s a teacher. And she just laughs. She’s like, yeah, teachers, what a joke. Who cares? I still owe as much money to my college. It’ll take me 20 years to make that amount of money in actually, a paycheck, right? I mean, it’s just when you talk about all the different things that we’re trying to fight and what we do, that’s part of it. There’s a great song by indire that I love to listen to and play with. Kids know, she goes, travels, and goes to places that have much more means than even our poorest communities in the US. And she was saying, how much of it is a song and lyrics? But she was saying, I met this young man. He was blind and had very little means and lived in a small village. And he was the happiest person I’d ever met because he just had that perspective of, like, I’m so grateful for what I do have. And part of me is why we worked our tails off to get our kids to have the life we didn’t have. Our kids have traveled, really all over the world, study abroad. Any vacations they’ve had, they’ve figured out a way to do it, because it makes you see, like, you don’t have to think about running water now. Some people in the US do. But your toilet flushes, you can walk to the grocery store. There are some things, right? Then you get into urban, suburban, and rural, and that gets interesting, which is why I think the whole red blue thing for us in the US is interesting. If we just spent time understanding each other’s circumstances, we’d be in a lot better place. And it’s hard. You only know what you know. And that’s what I say to our kids all the time. You know what you know. But there’s so much more. And that’s what college does for me, the more educated. And I found this interesting. The last couple things that I’ve been reading and trying to wrap my brain around how to share with students. The more you know, the more you know that you don’t know much, right? I mean, I watch Jeopardy every night and I just laugh. And I’m like, I have, uh, no idea what 20% of these questions are. And you know what? I also don’t care. Like, it’s not important to me. It really isn’t. And is it important to my life? But do I love the whole idea of a game show and getting people to think and think about questions and perspectives? Yes, but do I want to make people feel stupid because they don’t know greek mythology or they don’t know geography? I want them to know about geography, because that might help you understand the world a little bit better. Maybe greek mythology will help you. But it’s having those kind of conversations with our scholars, which is really both fun and enlightening, but also allows all of us to step back and say, okay, we’re really that piece of sand. But how do we make the difference while we’re here for ourselves and then build a community that is really rich, not so much in things, but in each other?

Jonathan DeYoe: So, do you have any amazing success stories? Stories where you found an individual that had the desire, the ability, didn’t have the financial support, needed some coaching, but they got the financial support through the organization, got the coaching, and then they just blossomed. Like, they became critical members of the community?

Sherry Smith: Yeah, I mean, I would argue that everybody at some point is critical for somebody and something. So it’s a matter of what we. And again, this gets to it, right? What do we identify as being the most important thing? Like, do they have to be the doctor? You see us up. Can they be the doctor in the clinic? Get the be. We had somebody one day was frustrated because our kids were talking, or one kid was talking, and their dream was to be the manager at Target. And the donor was like, really? I paid all that money for someone to be the manager of target? Do you know how much money target brings in in this country or Walmart or Kmart or whatever? And if somebody is managing and becomes a regional, like, do you know the impact that they have on so many lives? Somebody working for Amazon, like, understanding what that is? So, yeah, I mean, we have the success story of a student who went to Berkeley eye and went to Cal, and he went to Columbia and was know risk manager for Meta. We’ve got couple lawyers know nobody in their family had beyond an 8th grade education, and they wanted to be an immigration lawyer. Now they’re actually working commercial law and doing quite well, but they come back and tell that story and figure out, how do I make that make sense, right? Because I still want to be an immigration lawyer. How does that work? But I’m really frustrated because our immigration law is so antiquated and so frustrating that I can’t get stuff done right. So we’ve got the teachers who do teach for America and then decide, you know what, I’m going to stay in this. I’m not going to run away, and, uh, I’m going to do the hard work. We’ve got kids who are coral fellows. The fun part is that we’re young, right? So if we started in 20 08, 20 12, 20 13 is, um, the oldest kid that we would have. So we have kids that have been out of college 1012 years. That’s our oldest kid. Three of them are serving on our board, right? And it’s such a blast, right? And giving them back a voice, having all these people in the community that have lots more means know lots of different, like, it’s when I putton speaks, everyone stops. Like, when a scholar on our board talks, everyone’s like, oh, I know that. I think about it that way. And for me, that’s what I’ve hoped to bring. I mean, I did not grow up poor, not in my mind. I’m sure other people would have thought so. But I have had so many rich experiences. I have taught in the toughest places with the kids where my junior year of high school was gang crazy. And I remember running home wondering if I was going to actually survive. And I went home and my brother stayed to fight, and I didn’t know if he was going to survive again. And I wasn’t at a really poor, uh, public high school in LA, but I had that experience that really does drive some things for me. But I’ve also worked at the richest school in really, northern California and Marin, working with the top, top 1% of the student body students financially. And, um, one of my favorite stories is a kid who’s super wealthy family, super wealthy, longtime generation, not quite buffett, but not too far off. And she came into my office and she said, how do I apply to college and not use my real name? Because I want to be admitted to college for just m me and not being connected to my family. And I had to say to her, you can’t do that because you can’t lie and I can’t lie for you. And she ended up being an olympian and not going to college, and she eventually did go back, but she’s like, I’m going to take this opportunity because I have it. And I know it’s an opportunity, uh, that most people don’t get right. And having that conversation at that level, and then literally driving down to Richmond to a kid whose parent was making eighty five cents an hour as a migrant worker and standing outside of Home Depot hoping to be picked up was just my life for a while. And so coming to Berkeley community scholars was like, okay, how do I wrap my arms around a place and a group of ten that I truly, in my heart, think that the entire city can lift up and have Berkeley be that place that everybody in the country wants to emulate and not be about? 9475 and 9471 and nine for 712, right? Like, what does it mean? And it doesn’t mean that everybody lives the same and lives next door to each other. I keep saying to the board, like, no matter what you do, none of our scholars can live next door to you. I can’t move next door to any of you. I can’t live in Berkeley. It’s not possible. That’s okay. But understand that then. Are we both valued the same? Are we both respected the same? Right?

Jonathan DeYoe: And there’s kind of got to be a path. Like, maybe not today, but maybe in the future, right? There’s got to be a path, otherwise it’s not ever going to be equal.

Sherry Smith: We’re never going to get any closer, right? And so for us, talking a lot about equity and racial equity and gender equity and family equity, what does that look like? And it’s funny because I told you, I’m a twin. And my mom’s favorite line, I lost both my parents now, but my mom’s favorite line was, I raised one kid to save the world, and I raised one kid that is going to take over the world. And it’s very funny because he is very money oriented, and he’s an artist, ironically, and is a brilliant artist, and is a commercial artist and is a techie and all those things. And, um, has done. He wanted to be a millionaire by 25, and that probably happened for him, and I will never see that. And we are as close as can be, but couldn’t be more different in how we go about life. And his thing to me a couple of weeks ago is he’s like, can you please make some more money? He goes, make as much money as you can and then give it all away. Uh, that’s what I hope for you is, sherry, like, make your money, because I’ve been offered lots of different opportunities, and I’m like, that feels like, again, I didn’t grow up with stocks and investments, and how do you make the most? And my kids now are because they married people who, ironically, grew up much poorer than they did. One’s an immigrant, one’s mom of five, very poor, but they’re brilliant because they care. Exactly. In a very different way, because they did go through what you said of like, I wish I could have. I wanted those pair of shoes. I wanted to go to that camp. I wanted. And so they’re making sure, one, that they have those opportunities, and two, by gosh, their kids are not going to go without having what they think is at least as important. Right?

Jonathan DeYoe: There’s this element of, and we’re going to wrap here in a second, but there’s this element of, you desire it, you desire it, you desire it, you build it, you get there, you’re fine, your kids are fine. But there’s this thing in the back of your head that goes, we’re not fine, we’re not fine. It’s going to go away. We’re going to lose it. It’s going to go away. And getting rid of that, I think the way to get rid of that is actually start giving it away. And so if you rise out of poverty and you become wealthy or well to do at all.

Sherry Smith: Mhm.

Jonathan DeYoe: And you somehow separate yourself from community after that, then you’ll never, ever be happy. You will never ever feel like, I’m going to be safe and be okay. The key is to get there and then to turn around and say, this is my community. I’m going to help build up this community. And so I think in Berkeley you have a little bit of this unique, maybe not so unique, maybe it’s just there’s people here that think this way and there’s probably people everywhere that think this way. But the idea, hey, what can we do for these kids that don’t have the same role model, don’t have the same belief in their own ability, don’t have the same, but who are dedicated and are smart and who really want to excel, whatever that looks like for them. I have one. Well, uh, it’s more than just one, but if you’re talking to a high school student and they’re just heading off to college, I want you to really, I ask every guest to do this right, really make it simple. You’re going to give them one piece of advice, just do this one thing your first year in college and this well set the stage. And then maybe there’s one other thing that they’re hearing about that they’re worried about that you just tell them, hey, just don’t worry about, let that go. Let that go. So one thing that do one thing.

Sherry Smith: Don’T worry about, I think one thing to do. And this gets tricky when you have a lot of things hanging over you that uh, creating fear, whether it be, uh, mostly money, but try something new. Go out and meet other people on your floor. Join that club, go watch. You didn’t even know that hockey was a sport. Go do something that you just really have no idea what that is. Just to get your mind and your juices flowing of like, oh, wow, didn’t know that, uh, existed. Right. So particularly for our kids, you have to go very far to do that. So for me it’s like, take those risks, like find, got to be smart in your risk, I think, take that risk. And the thing not to worry about for me, and again, easier said than done in this is really not worrying about your major. Take the time to find what you really love. Because if you want something, it doesn’t become so much about work, but it becomes about how do I fit into community, how do I make my community and life better. So find that because you’re willing to work hard at that versus, oh, well, that’s going to make a lot of money, or my mom said that dad to do this or my uncle’s doing this, or I’ve got this. I mean, there’s some things that you’re going to probably just do because that’s what you know. But if you really take the time to find out what’s that thing that both stimulates you but also in your heart, you’re just like, I love waking up doing that every day because you can probably find a way to make a living doing that thing. It might take a little bit of time and might be trickier and not an easy path if you don’t want to be these labels of engineer, doctor, lawyer, teacher. But the world is so full of opportunities. It’s like, don’t be afraid to dream and look at what that is. And then put people in your camp that can help you actually figure out a multitude of pathways, not one. That’s why we have at least two paths. I wish we had ten. That you can actually maybe create that in your mind and then on paper and then maybe put the steps to do that. One of my favorite books is the startup of you, and um, I like to give that to every one of our college graduates, because it’s not about reinventing yourself for work, it’s reinventing yourself for you and figuring out how do you see who you are. And I love it because the way it is, like read this chapter, and then it has a bunch of things to do today, a bunch of things to do in a month, a bunch of things to do in a year. And it says, don’t go into the next chapter until you’ve done these things. So it’s like, in essence, you should take a year or two to read this book. Most of us, I went through the whole thing. It was fascinating. But I even have our staff stop and think about how do you recreate yourself every day for you? And that you actually becomes, how do I become a better person for my community?

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m just going to. A little quick aside here. There’s this exercise that I do, and if you just think about it, every single night we go to bed, we package up our insecurities and our mental self attacking, and we put it in a little package, and we put it next to the bed. Then we go to bed and we sleep and we dream, and we have thoughts that are unlimited. And then we wake up in the morning and we grab that package of stuff. Uh, and we put it back on. So one of the exercises is maybe not put one of those things back on, maybe just leave one of those things next to the bed. Let it dissolve for the day. Because at the end of the day, there’s limitations out there, but many of those limitations are in here. And how do we get rid of those limitations? That’s the hardest part, in my estimation. It’s like, how do you get rid of the stuff that you tell yourself you can’t do?

Sherry Smith: Well, um, on the flip side of that, the thing, and I would say, my kids do this, and I wish I had done this. Even with them, every day they put a piece of paper in the morning when they wake up in a gratitude jar. What am I grateful for? And, uh, every December 31, they actually read all 365 of those together, the two couples. And it’s, wow. That’s right. So just think, if we had every single kid in this country do that at night and that in the morning, what a different place we would live in.

Jonathan DeYoe: Gigantic change Hazer. So we don’t know who’s listening. This is going to go out in two, three weeks. We don’t know who’s going to be listening. What do you need at Berkeley community scholars?

Sherry Smith: Well, our dream is to help all 125 kids who graduate from Berkeley High each year that fall into those three categories. Right? Lowest economic, first generation, underrepresented. And right now, we can serve somewhere between 30 and 35. So I wish we could say we could do this for free. But college isn’t free, and paying my staff isn’t free. We’re not all won. Otherwise, I couldn’t live here. Right. So we need to raise one and a half million dollars every year. And I’m finding each year it’s harder and harder. This year, we’re almost a quarter of a million dollars short, which is why we can’t select all the students that we’d like to. So that’s a huge one. And I won’t say it’s an easy one, but for people with means, it’s like, your extra ten grand makes a huge difference for us. Your extra 20 supports a kid all the way through our program, so those things matter. But other than that, can you mentor a kid? Can you talk to a kid once a month and share some of the things that we just shared today? Can you be on a panel? We do these career workshops, and you sit down and you tell the kids a story, not as necessarily long winded as we did, but can you just say, where’d you start? How’d you get there? What do you like most about your job? Or can you let a kid job shout for a year, for a day? What does it really mean to do that kind of job? Don’t really know. Can you help me? So there’s multitudes of, from the very easy to the little bit more complicated to the, like, you want to dive in and really be part of our team, then let us know and we can find the spice for you.

Jonathan DeYoe: Great. And then how do people reach out and say, hey, someone wants to volunteer. Someone wants to be a mentor. How do they find you? Where do they find you?

Sherry Smith: So it’s just our website, www.berkeleyscholars.org, and there’s a place for volunteering, a place for mentoring. All of our emails are right there. Mine’s fairly easy. It’s sherry at, uh, berkeleyscholars.org. I answer my email literally every day. I’m a little crazy about that. I do not go to bed with that email in particular, uh, without having at least responded to all of them. So I pretty much commit myself to that. So I’ll get back to you, even if I have to say, like, oh, gosh, this week’s crazy. I’ll talk to you on Monday. You’ll hear from me.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing all that. One last thing, and we just want to loop back to the personal. And so what’s the last thing you changed your mind about?

Sherry Smith: What’s the last thing I changed my mind about probably what am I going to do this afternoon? Like, after doing that, do I take a break and read a novel because I just want to unplug? Or do I go clean some part of my house since I’m working at home today?

Jonathan DeYoe: I don’t know if that’s a changing of the mind or if that’s scatterbrained. I don’t know which one is that.

Sherry Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan DeYoe: Sherry, thank you so much for coming on. All that stuff’s going to in be the show notes. I really appreciate. You, uh, know those folks who are listening. Go check out Berkeley community scholars, especially if you’re a local Berkeley, Oakland Richmond resident and have skin in the game here. I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Sherry Smith: Sherry, thank you so much.

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