Out of Office: Erika Omana Mentors through 'Minds Matter' Los Angeles

After learning about Minds Matter LA — a United Way organization connecting driven and determined students from low-income families with the people, preparation, and possibilities to succeed in college — Erika Omana (Senior Property Manager, Regency Centers) knew she wanted to be a part of it. With the belief that higher education creates pathways out of poverty and that a college education creates positive, multi-generational change, the three-year program pairs students with mentors (like Erika) who guide, challenge, and champion them.

As a mentor or “older sister," Erika meets with her student mentee via Zoom for two hours each Saturday to provide academic, social, and professional support. Through intensive SAT preparation with an emphasis on math, writing, and critical thinking, a large part of Erika’s mentorship is focused on college readiness.

MindsMatterStudentsPhoto: Minds Matter

I didn’t have anyone to walk me through the college application, readiness, or financial aid process when I was in high school, and I had to figure it out on my own,” said Erika. “My mentee and I have so much in common, as we are both first generation, hispanic, oldest children in our families. It’s really cool to share my experiences, talk to her about what she’s going through, and give back by supporting her as she prepares to begin applying for schools in the Los Angeles area over the next few years.

For more than a decade, Minds Matter has positively impacted hundreds of low-income students. Statistically, low-income students are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school than their high-income peers, and over 50% of our nation’s high-achieving, low-income students do not apply to a single selective college or university.

minds-matter-student-graduationPhoto: Minds Matter

Minds Matter supports students in their sophomore, junior, and senior year, offering a unique combination of mentoring support, group instruction, and social-emotional learning. Through the support of volunteers like Erika, Minds Matter provides students with the resources and guidance needed to gain admission, enroll, and succeed at rigorous four-year colleges. Support continues during college with internships, professional skills-building, and access to their alumni platform.

When Erika shows up for her Saturday Zoom calls, she always expects to talk about something different, from school-related questions to chats about family and home life. The conversations are relaxed and informal, and she always walks away from them feeling inspired and empowered.

minds-matter-student-assemblyPhoto: Minds Matter

I chose my mentee after reading a handful of student essays written by members of the program, as I felt incredibly connected to her story," said Erika. "Right now we’re working through presentations about different aspects of the college experience, from majors and courses, to sororities and extracurricular clubs. But no matter what the subject matter is, I always look forward to it. I can’t wait to see my mentee succeed, and plan to keep in touch with her long after graduation. I’m excited to see which college she ends up attending, and I feel so privileged to be able to see her grow, learn, and succeed.