By Diane Y. Welch
This is the first article in a four-part series that spotlights four separate local organizations that have each received a financial gift from the Rancho Santa Fe Women’s Fund (RSFWF).
On May 23, the Rancho Santa Fe Women’s Fund recognized several local nonprofit organizations each successful grantees for its 2011 period of granting. Out of nearly 100 San Diego based nonprofit organizations, eight were chosen in two areas of focus: Economic Development, and Health and Social Services.
Reality Changers received $50,000 for economic development. The mission of Reality Changers, which has facility sites in City Heights and Solana Beach, is to provide inner-city youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with the resources to become first generation college students. And the four RSF Women’s Fund members — Susan Muha, Donna Vance, Sandi Zarcades, and committee leader Pat Amtower, who were assigned to visit one of the facility sites — were unanimous in their support for this innovative program.
Founded in 2001 by Christopher Yanov, Reality Changers, a comprehensive weekly tutoring program, is supported through grants, in-kind scholarships and charitable donations.
The funds received from the Rancho Santa Fe Women’s Fund will help develop the Reality Changers program College Apps Academy (CAA), formerly known as Senior Academy. The program guides high school seniors through the entire college application process, from identifying a full range of “best-fit” undergraduate institutions through making a final selection. UCSD Extension will now give “college prep credit” for those who are enrolled in the CAA course.
By meeting weekly for three hours from September through June with volunteer business professionals, senior students are guided through college applications, financial aid, leadership training and scholarships applications.
Over the past 10 years Reality Changers’ coaching has helped students gain admission to dozens of the most competitive schools across the country — including Harvard, Columbia, and Duke on the East Coast, to UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego closer to home, according to CAA’s website. Their experienced staff assisted them in earning over $15,000,000 in scholarships, including six Gates Millennium Scholarship winners.
Amtower, who also serves as editor of the RSF Women’s Fund newsletter, was impassioned about this project. “I chose to represent Reality Changers because San Diego is a border city to a country where there is high unemployment, government corruption, drug culture, a sense of hopelessness. Immigrants come here to escape that reality,” she said. “Either we help them escape that reality in the pockets where it exists here or we face the spread of that insidious reality.”
During their visit, the site team saw successful students, positive statistics, a well-equipped and cheerful facility, and a well-researched teaching plan. “I was most impressed with the success rate of the graduates and the caliber of colleges to which they were accepted,” said Muha, immediate past grant chair. “When we toured the facility it was very apparent that Chris has boundless energy! He gives hope and guidance to kids who would otherwise most likely end up in prison or dead. Chris Yanov is truly amazing.”
Reality Changers does not waste a single penny of donated funds, said Vance, current grant chairman. “I soon realized that our $50,000 would go directly to the students,” she said. “I think Reality Changers will become a model [for others] to help disadvantaged youths break the barriers and the gang cycle.”
As for the future of the CAA, Yanov said, “We are hoping that this new endeavor will bring in new sources of revenue so that we can spend more of our time at Reality Changers, building first generation college students and less of our time raising money. Imagine how much more of an impact we can make if we stopped looking for funds and instead had funds coming to us!”
To find out more about Reality Changers, visit
- For information on CAA, visit