By Ishani Kejriwal, UChicago Class of 2019
Sometimes, you meet people that inspire you to inspire others. That is exactly how I felt when talking to Cain Yepez, a model Scholar in the class of 2018. He was boyish, with a charming smile and floppy brown hair, and spoke eloquently, in a way I wouldn’t expect from a student his age. He was confident and had a pitch ready for me, showing me that he was prepared to tell me about this achievement that he was so proud of and that he really held close.
His latest endeavor, known as the Bridge Tutoring Program, aims to bridge (ha-ha!) the education gap in some South Side communities. As a resident of Garfield Ridge, a neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago, and someone who was heading to be a first-generation college student, Cain saw a need for additional educational support at his neighborhood schools. Even though he goes to the selective enrollment school Jones College Prep now, he started out his freshman year in his neighborhood school, Kennedy High School, where he became familiar with the needs of his community. Bridge Tutoring is a peer-to-peer elementary school and high school program that links tutors and tutees from the same neighborhood. They select tutors who are in the top 10% of their class or in National Honor Society in order to secure high quality instruction and assistance, and they keep the ratio of tutor to tutee as 1:2, ensuring that the students gain the most personalized experience possible. When I asked how large the program was, Cain proudly stated that there were 150 tutors and 300 tutees across 5 different neighborhoods, but he explained that the program had plans to expand in the upcoming school year. He expressed a deep commitment to the program, explaining that the tutors in the program weren’t just tutors but also life coaches, ready to guide students through the ups and downs of the educational system. He told me this program was important to him because he wished he had something similar in his youth. He told me he lives by the saying “be the person you needed” and that influences his drive to make the program as beneficial as possible.
Cain is the CFO of his organization, and I, shamefully, had to ask him to find out that meant Chief Financial Officer. As the program expands, he, understandably, needs more funds to keep the program going. His website bridgetutoring.org is currently being run by money that he is paying out of pocket, and as the demand for the program expands, so does the demand for supplies. He wants to fundraise for whiteboards, folders and other supplies, and to reward the tutors who put in a lot of emotional and physical labor without so much as a pizza party or certificate. Luckily, one resource that Cain didn’t have to pay for was the Collegiate Scholars Program, which he never intended to apply to. He told me that he originally threw the flyer away because he didn’t think he could get in, only to realize that if he never tried, he definitely wasn’t going to get in, which ended up working out for him. Although Collegiate Scholars has helped him in many ways, one of the most profound resources Cain and his team got access to was Abel himself. Cain gushed about how integral Abel was to the success of Bridge Tutoring, explaining that Abel taught him how to manage finances, set up and manage a website and donation page, and create goals for the future. He made it clear to me that Collegiate Scholars was what gave him the confidence to give back to the community. By having the opportunity to participate in an educational nonprofit throughout high school, he knew he could give back to his community, and other communities similar to his, by starting his own educational non-profit.
After he left, I called my parents and expressed to them how impressed I was at a senior in high school already doing so much for his community. Cain demonstrates, in the best way, the importance of paying it forward, and the importance of being the change you want to see in the world. If you would like to support Cain’s cause or want more information, please visit bridgetutoring.org.