News & Events
Agent of Change Steers Toward College
San Diego Union-Tribune
by Chris Moran
Published June 18, 2007
Christopher Yanov knew the tutoring group he calls Reality Changers was working the night kids stormed his church five years ago.
Yanov was inside with students who were attending the free but invitation-only coaching session at Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana in Golden Hill.
A posse of street toughs pounded on the locked doors and sprayed the windows with pebbles. To Yanov's amazement, these taggers and brawlers wanted to get into the church. To study.
Yanov started Reality Changers with four students in 2001. Today, his program enrolls 90 students in eighth through 12th grades. They meet for three hours Tuesday nights. An additional 50 are on a waiting list.
The program offers five years of one-on-one tutoring with university students, an annual week at a church summer camp and a review course for the SAT college admissions exam.
Reality Changers is a ministry of the Presbyterian Church, and part of its mission is “to improve each member's relationship with God.” Meetings include about 20 minutes of prayer, though other church attendance isn't compulsory.
The Reality Changers Constitution requires students to maintain a 3.0 grade point average, learn 10 SAT words per week, perform 25 hours of community service per year, pass random drug tests that Yanov administers and “have no involvement with alcohol, drugs, gangs, or sex.”
For students who fulfill the requirements, Yanov's group also covers the $3,325 cost for a three-week college-prep summer school at the University of California San Diego. He expects to send 35 students this year.
As executive director, Yanov, 28, finds the money by talking about the program to service clubs, congregations, networking groups, university classes and anyone else who will listen. About half the money for Reality Changers comes from individuals who donate between $5 and $25,000. The rest comes from the church, foundations, corporations and UCSD.
Reality Changers works, Yanov said, because he finds good kids in bad crowds.
The young men and women are motivated to come every week, in part to be around friends from other schools who have the same dream – to be the first in their families to go to college.
Yanov said Reality Changers' formula is based on some simple street sense: “It's all about who you kick it with.”