Yessica Vargas-Villanueva needed a boost. As a 10th-grader at Middle College High School in Durham, N.C., she had a promising future but was struggling.
No one in her family had gone to college and she said she never thought she would go, either. But counselors at the Emily K Center in Durham saw her potential.
Vargas-Villanueva was accepted in the center’s Scholars to College program, which helps high school students achieve academically and personally while preparing them for college. She was set up with a tutor and a mentor and received support that her family could not give when it came to college applications, SAT prep and looking for scholarships. Today she is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro working on a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing and a minor in Spanish.
"I’ve been fortunate to work with Yessica while in high school and throughout her college years,” said Donell Moore, associate director of college success at the Emily K Center. “Each year I’ve noticed growth in her confidence and the leadership qualities she has developed. Yessica continues to seek opportunities where she can share knowledge and provide insight to current students at the Emily K Center."
The Emily Krzyzewski (K for short) Center is a nonprofit that serves as a college access hub in Durham to help prepare academically focused, low-income students and graduates toward success in college. The Center was founded by Duke University men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and named in honor of his mother, Emily.
Students who live in Durham County who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program are eligible to apply for help from the Center. Students are also often referred to the Center through nominations from school staff, community members and community agencies.
“The Emily K Center has been everything for me,” Vargas-Villanueva said. “They motivated me to make better decisions and focus on what I wanted for my future. With their help I wrote a great essay and I was later awarded with a full-ride scholarship. Everyone at Emily K is like family and I wouldn't trade that.”
The Center recently received a $10,000 grant from Duke Energy as well as a $10,000 rebate after installing LED lighting throughout its facility.
“This partnership,” said Indira Everett, Duke Energy government and communication relations manager, “ensures our children have the academic and life skills needed to thrive in the classroom and beyond.”
Mike Krzyzewski thanked Duke Energy for its support.
"We are grateful for the terrific partnership with Duke Energy this year,” said Krzyzewski. “Duke Energy was there to support us through an incentive program. It is great to see businesses such as Duke Energy that are truly committed to investing in the communities they serve."
As for Yessica Vargas-Villanueva, she said she thought college wasn’t an option until the staff at Emily K made her believe in herself.