KORINNE DENNIS grew up with a single mother. They moved around a lot and lived on welfare.

She was raised in part by her grandmother and older cousins.

As an eighth-grader at Conwell Middle School in Kensington, Dennis learned about Philadelphia Futures' Sponsor-a-Scholar Program from a guidance counselor who encouraged her to apply when she got to high school.

Dennis did so during her freshman year at Lincoln High School in Mayfair.

Now 26, and a program manager at the Eagles Youth Partnership, Dennis credits much of her success to Philadelphia Futures, which serves low-income students who are the first generation in their families to go to college.

On Saturday, the Center City nonprofit will hold its annual conference at Drexel University, where high school and college students in its programs will attend a day of speakers and workshops alongside their parents and mentors.

Philadelphia Futures, founded in 1989, serves about 550 high-school and college students in its Sponsor-A-Scholar and College Connection programs. A major portion of the program provides academic help and college guidance to students while they are in high school. The support continues in college.

Emily Gonzalez, 18, is a senior at Northeast High School and a Futures student. She credits the program with helping her get into Gettysburg College. She learned this week that she had been accepted.

"It probably would have been very difficult" to apply to colleges on her own, she said. Her parents, who grew up in the Dominican Republic and do not speak English fluently, "don't know much about the college process," she said.

Joan Mazzotti, Futures' executive director, said, "The students' needs are deep, so we do a considerable amount of academic enrichment - that's both after-school classes and summer programs" focused on reading, writing, and college preparation.

In addition, each student is supported by a Futures counselor.

"We work very closely with them on making the right choice for college, and then they're supported through the entire application process," Mazzotti said. "We work with them on their applications, their essays, getting their transcripts."

With Futures' help, Dennis got into Temple University, from which she graduated in 2011, and obtained an internship with the Eagles Youth Partnership, leading to her career there.

Students in Sponsor-a-Scholar are also paired with mentors in high school and receive $6,000 in college for study expenses.

Gonzalez credits Futures with matching her with mentor Debbie Zlotnick, a pediatric physical therapist, who works in her field of interest - health care.

Zlotnick, 54, said, "Philadelphia Futures gets what is involved with making students successful, not just the academic piece," by broadening students' horizons with new experiences.

As for Dennis, she still keeps in touch with her mentor, Pauline Abernathy, a vice president of the national Institute for College Access and Success.

"I think what a lot of people don't understand is, for kids like me, and all our Philadelphia peers, we don't have a consistent cheerleader telling us that we're doing something right, giving us a high five," Dennis said of her unstable upbringing. "Pauline reminds me that it's my strength, my resilience, my grit that has gotten me where I am now."

Added Abernathy: "Philadelphia Futures provided for Korinne what most students from higher-income families have, which is a network of adults who believe in them, have high expectations of them, and on whom they can count."



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