Simon Family Foundation History
In 2002, Ronald Simon and his children established the Simon Family Foundation and its Simon Scholars Program. A child of immigrants, Ronald had achieved the American dream though his hard work in building a successful manufacturing company. Wanting to give back to the community, the Simon family made the decision to fulfill this mission by assisting students with difficult life and economic circumstances.
Upon launching the Simon Scholars Program, the Foundation selected two economically disadvantaged students at each of five public high schools in the Santa Ana Unified School District. Each Simon Scholar was provided with a $2,000-per-year stipend for his or her junior and senior years of high school, along with a $4,000 scholarship for each year of college.
Working with the Scholars Program, Ron’s daughter, Dr. Kathy Simon Abels, realized over time that financial aid alone was not sufficient to address the challenges faced by the Scholars. Many of the students were first-generation Americans with non-English speaking parents. Numerous Scholars were dealing with ongoing poverty and many other personal hardships. Some Scholars were in foster care or living with their families in a single room. Others had parents who worked multiple jobs to keep food on the table, requiring the Scholars to take care of themselves and sometimes younger siblings as well. Several Scholars came from families in which a parent abused alcohol and drugs, and some had a parent who was incarcerated. It became apparent that the Scholars needed additional support and guidance in order to address their challenges and remain on course with college-bound students who did not face such difficulties.
In 2005, Dr. Abels, using her background as a Clinical Psychologist, began conceptualizing and implementing a new approach for the Simon Scholars Program. First, instead of selecting only two Scholars per high school, the Foundation decided to create supportive environments by choosing as many as eight new Scholars at each school. In this way, the Foundation helped to create built-in communities and a sense of extended family amongst the Scholars. With this peer support model, the Scholars became more outgoing, more confident and ultimately more hopeful and motivated.
In addition, the Simon Scholars Program developed an intensive “whole-person” program in order to prepare the Scholars academically, socially and emotionally to succeed in college and beyond. Added activities included leadership conferences/workshops, personal growth retreats, an SAT preparation course, Bay Area College Tour, and life skills training opportunities. The Simon Family Foundation staff began providing guidance on the college application/financial aid process and taught Scholars how to seek out and utilize resources on college campuses.
The Program created and implemented by the Foundation has paid dividends. At this time, the Foundation selects more than 120 new Simon Scholars each academic year. Currently, over 250 Scholars participate in the high school Program, and over 350 in the college Program. Simon Scholars attend colleges that include UCLA, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Brown. As of the end of the 2016 college year, seven classes of Scholars have finished college for a total of 443 graduates. To date, the Foundation has provided over $24 million in financial aid.
And the Simon Scholars Program continues to evolve. At this time, the Foundation is in the process of establishing the Simon Scholars Alumni Association. Through the Alumni Association, Simon Scholars who have graduated from college can participate in career and other networking events, and serve as Program volunteers. The Foundation is also in the process of establishing a mentoring program, so that individual Scholars can receive additional support and guidance. The Foundation believes that these programs, along with the ongoing support from our staff, will lead to even greater success for our Scholars in college, and ultimately in their careers and contributions to the community.
The Simon Family Foundation is proud of what its Scholars have achieved to date, and looks forward to continuing to fulfill its mission of providing opportunities for students facing adversity to obtain a college education and pursue the American dream.