When Heights visited Diego Joseph’s high school, he could have never imagined what an important role the organization would play in his life. At just 14 years old, he could tell that this was the opportunity he had been waiting for — a chance to change the trajectory of his life and lay the groundwork for a successful future.
“I came from a family where we didn’t go to college,” says Diego. “We were immigrants, and opportunities like this, they didn’t come around often. I knew that if this was something I was serious about, then I couldn’t wait.”
After returning from the information session, Diego applied that night to join Heights’ Sponsor-a-Scholar program, a decision which proved to be the first step in the next critical chapter of his life. As a Scholar, Diego received the resources, support, and guidance he needed to navigate the college preparation and application process, visiting local colleges, mapping his goals, drafting a personal statement, and participating in SAT preparation, among other key activities. In 2018, Diego’s hard work paid off when he was accepted to join the Gettysburg College Class of 2022, a place that, as it turns out, had special ties to home.
“Gettysburg is a partner college for Heights, which made it easy to feel comfortable in that space,” he says. “Moving on to a partner school was reassuring because there was a sense that these are people who know you, and they know what this program is all about.”
As a Scholar, Diego had built a strong community, one that encouraged him to never stop learning, growing, and exploring. It was that constant source of support which pushed him to chase new opportunities and pursue new goals, first at Gettysburg, and later, in his career.
“A lot of us were first-generation college students, some of us first-generation Americans are from low-income backgrounds — we didn’t think that college was a possibility,” says Diego. “But [Heights] showed us that people like us can go on to be successful. Having adults believe in you in such an intimate way, that’s powerful.”
Today, Diego is paying that support forward in a very special way as part of Heights. Diego, who serves as an advisor for the Kensington campuses, offers students a unique perspective, utilizing his own experience as a Scholar to benefit a new generation of students. Having the opportunity to act as a mentor for these students is a responsibility he does not take lightly, but rather, one he feels privileged to take on, says Diego.
“I love the fact that I can be that adult now, learning about their dreams and aspirations, but on a whole other level,” he says. “These kids are dreaming even bigger than I was at their age!”
Now, with the combined resources of two incredible organizations, Diego can already see the positive impact that Heights is having on the lives of today’s students, building on the life-changing experience he remembers so well.
“This new partnership between Philadelphia Futures and Steppingstone Scholars, it’s like two perfect puzzle pieces coming together,” says Diego. “It’s even more like-minded people working within one organization, helping not just high schoolers, but middle schoolers. Now we can reach these students even earlier and set them up in a way where they have the tools to set up to high school, college, and beyond.”