REALITY CHANGERS transforms lives by providing youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with the academic support, financial assistance, and leadership training to become college graduates.

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Volunteer Spotlight – Jennifer Coburn

Jennifer attended the University of Michigan with a BA in Communications and has volunteered with Reality Changers for one year. She is a tutor on Wednesday night for our College Town program and advises seniors throughout the college application process. Jennifer also lends her expertise to the Reality Changers communications team. 

Why did you get involved with Reality Changers? 

I wholeheartedly believe in the transformational power of a college education. I also see a real disparity in terms of access to educational resources, such as test prep, essay coaching, and interview prep. All high school students should have these resources regardless of their zip code and Reality Changers gives them all of these things — and an amazing support network. I am incredibly impressed by the skills, energy, and passion of the Reality Changers staff.

Describe a memorable experience from working with the students.

I took a small group of students to NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech, and was blown away by how well they used their time there. AT JPL, the students were constantly talking to our tour guides, asking great questions, and taking notes. I thought we were going to have to leave one student behind because NASA was going to hire him right there and then. At Caltech, the students were chatting with the admissions director, talking about classes, campus life, and admissions strategies. It was amazing to see how they took full advantage of this opportunity.

What have you learned from volunteering with Reality Changers? 

I’ve learned that hearing a young person saying, “I got in!” is magical every time. 

Volunteering has forced me out of my bubble of middle class suburban life. Reading college essays has given me an opportunity to learn more about people’s lives in a very real way. Social issues are no longer merely academic when you see the people they affect sitting right in front of you. For example, I worked with a student who lived in a small apartment with other families, one where there was a lot of violence and a child was seriously injured. Another student talked about needing to do landscaping work for 20+ hours a week on top of a full course load at high school. Prior to volunteering, these are things I knew were happening, but only because I read about them. I didn’t really get it. Knowing the students and hearing about their challenges as well as their hopes and dreams for the future is an entirely different experience. It is such a privilege to get to know these young people and play a role in their lives, however small my contribution may be. I am thrilled to say that these two students are both thriving at UC schools today. They are both taking full advantage of campus life: they’re getting good grades, involved in study groups, and members of student organizations.

Name three of the most impactful or memorable books you’ve ever read and why they are your choice.

The Secret Life of Bees – for its beautiful message about creating family, mothers in particular. The protagonist was born into less than ideal circumstances, but made a rich, warm, and loving family for herself among incredibly strong women on a bee farm.

Lilac Girls – the book follows three women’s stories during World War ll : An American socialite, a Polish prisoner, and a German doctor. Their lives intersect, but the story that fascinated me most was the German doctor because she started out as an okay person, then became a monster as she spent more time working in a Nazi concentration camp. What was chilling was how quickly horrific conditions became normal to her.

White Oleander – the book is about a girl who lives with five different foster families while her mother is serving life in prison for murder. It is heavy material, but the writing is gorgeous. I read an interview of the author where she said she tried to describe everything in a way that had never been done before. She doesn’t miss a single detail from her description of the look of someone’s eyeshadow to the taste of loneliness.

Where do you aspire to be in 3 years?

With a book on the NYT bestseller list


Jennifer with Reality Changers students and staff at San Diego Women’s Week