The transition from high school to college can be a daunting step as it is. Now, as students also face unprecedented obstacles that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to education systems, nonprofit College Scholarship Leadership Access Program, or CSLAP, has been working to support local seniors through the process of college admissions.

Courtesy photo from CSLAP’s Facebook page from 2018.

Through workshops and mentorship with university students, the Rio Grande Valley-based organization works with high school juniors and seniors to  prepare them for college. Workshops cover a range of topics, including professionalism, campus policy, and budgeting.

The last several months of a school year are integral for seniors to get assistance in getting ready for university life, so CSLAP has been hosting several virtual panels to answer questions they may have.

“We have been actively moving our sessions online, so that students don’t miss out on any of the advice or resources we have to offer,” Board Member Benito Garza, said.

Upcoming workshops will be hosted by CSLAP alumni, who will offer first-hand advice to students on how to prepare for their first semester of college. Another workshop that the organization’s board members are working to organize is a panel with representatives of multiple career fields.

“Our main mission is to help high school students transition to college while they are still in high school, and prepare them in any way we can,” Garza, 20, said.

To take part in upcoming virtual workshops, high school students can visit the organization’s website: cslapofficial.com.

The organization was founded by Pharr-San Juan-Alamo North High School alumni, Thomas Ray Garcia in 2013. Until 2017, CSLAP operated only in PSJA ISD. Now, approaching its first anniversary as an established nonprofit.

CSLAP currently works with Rembrant and Mozart Vanguard Academy schools, which are located in Alamo and Pharr respectively. In the last year, more than 50 students have used the organization’s resources, and Garza said the organization’s goal is to be established in all Valley school districts.

Another major part of CSLAP are the mentorships it fosters between high school students and alumni.

Courtesy photo from CSLAP’s Facebook page from 2017.

“We are trying to bring all the Valley students together to come back and help out,” Garza, a McAllen native and PSJA North alumni, said. “That is our main goal: to build a cycle, build a way where we can help seniors transition to college, help college students work and get successful jobs, then come back and help the next generation of students.”

CSLAP continues to help students while they are in college, by acting as a resource platform for any endeavors and projects. Last August, Garza hosted a finance-related career event, in which more than 50 students connected with local representatives in the field.

Additionally, as college students across the nation were asked in March to return home by their universities as social distancing measures were taking place, CSLAP opened an emergency aid fund for the unexpected travel expenses of alumni.

“A lot of students had to come down, and many did not have the money to do so,” Garza said.

Through various local donors, the organization raised more than $1,200 that helped around nine students return home.

Elected to the board earlier this year, Garza said CSLAP has shown him

“These students are the next leaders of the Valley, and CSLAP is trying to bridge a connection between students across the region,” Garza said. “CSLAP is bridging the gap between students here so that they can find strength within each other and keep Valley students connected, and be successful together.”