Former High School Teacher's Scholarship Program Helps 150th Low-Income Student Reach College

Charles Schmuck likes taking chances on young people.

Perhaps it is because he has found it to pay off nine times out of time.

11 years ago Schmuck started the Peninsula College Fund. Since then, the scholarship program has provided $3,000 year for college for more than 150 low-income, often fist-in-their-family to go to college, high school students.

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90% of them end up graduating from a four-year school.

"They are so inspirational," Schmuck said. "Just amazing."

Another reason Schmuck may be eager to take a chance on others is that someone once did the same for him. After a career in advertising, Schmuck decided a radical career change was in order: he wanted to be a teacher.

"The biggest question I had in my mind was at 56 can I still connect with kids?" said Schmuck, now 69-years-old.

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Mary Miller, principal of San Jose's Presentation High School, allowed Schmuck to find an answer to that question. He was hired to teach history.

"She took a chance on me and it was, in many ways, the best 10 years of my life," Schmuck said.

It was while he was teaching at Presentation, though, that Schmuck came up with a way to help another group of students: high school graduates on the Peninsula with low-incomes but good grades.

Inspired by his brother who had started a similar program in Southern California, Schmuck gathered a group of friends in his living room to come up with their own version and PCF was founded.

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"Goals were, provide these kids with $3,000 a year," Schmuck said. "So basically a $12,000 scholarship."

PCF started with just three students from three Peninsula high schools. They have grown exponentially since then.

This past week the introduced their latest group of two dozen scholarship winners, bringing total participation in the program over the years to more than 150.

The money, however, is just one part of what PCF offers the students. "It's not a scholarship program," Schmuck said. "It's a college completion program."

In order to achieve that, PCF pairs students with a one-on-one mentor who stays with that student throughout their college career. PCF also provides guidance on how to navigate through the college experience as well as get them prepared to enter the work world.

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Schmuck travels around the state and even around the country visiting PCF students on their campuses.

Recent San Jose State graduate Javier Guzman, says he not only has a degree but a friend for life in Charles.

"Charles, I'm forever grateful for him. He really cares about how we are doing," Guzman said.

Schmuck says PCF now counts 57 college graduates among their alumni. What makes that number even better, Schmuck believes, is that it is not just those graduates lives which have been changed. Their success ripples out to inspire their younger siblings, their significant others, and, one day, their future children.

In America, what you can do is literally change the horizon. Change the script in one generation and it's all tied to education."

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