Operation Jump Start (OJS) is celebrating another year of high school graduates, and this year is special.

Since 1994, the organization has helped underprivileged youth navigate high school and pursue higher education. On June 16, 22 high school students from low-income backgrounds will be celebrated at the Long Beach Yacht Club during the organization's annual Scholars Day Breakfast, and this ceremony will be honoring the most graduating students in the program's history.

"Operation Jump Start is expanding their college program," Yanira Lasoya, OJS operations manager, said. "They (the organization) are focused on growing."

Lasoya is a graduate of OJS herself. She said that her experience in the program was her motivation to give back to the organization — and hopefully help others achieve academic success.

"Honestly, I don’t think I’d be where I am right now if it wasn’t for OJS," Lasoya said. "It’s opened so many opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t wish it any other way."

She added that her parents instilled in her and her sisters the importance of education and pursuing a college degree, but that was easier said than done.

The road to college proved difficult, but Lasoya said that she relied on the guidance of her assigned mentors. She eventually went on to graduate with a bachelor's degree from Cal State Long Beach.

"Having strong, independent and influential women to look up to for guidance is a blessing," Lasoya said. "Every time I have something new happening in my life, making new decisions — like making career moves or applying to grad school — they (my mentors) are the first ones I reach out to.

"My mentors are not only my best friends, but family."

Today, Lasoya's sister, Yareli, is a young member of OJS. She's one of the high school graduates to be celebrated at the Long Beach Yacht Club next month — and she also will be attending CSULB in the fall.

"Operation Jump Start has helped me so much," Yareli said. "I don't know what I would have done sometimes if Nancy wasn't there to talk to me or help me through something."

Her mentor, Nancy Pfeffer, has become one of her best friends, she said.

"She is there for me, she advises me about college and she is such a sweet person," Yareli said. "We get along so well; even though she has a busy schedule, she always makes time to go out and cook and hang out.”

And Pfeffer said that she's just as happy to be there for Yareli.

"We have a lot of fun together," Pfeffer said. "We cook and go to movies. She went with me to watch ‘Black Panther' — she had already seen it, so it was so sweet of her to see a movie again just to see it with me."

Pfeffer added that she has been volunteering with OJS since 2007 and has mentored three different students.

“I am contributing to the success as a member of the community, at least I hope that is true," she said. "I like to think I am contributing to a young person’s success anyway, someone who will be a part of the community long after I’m gone."

From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 16, Operation Jump Start will host the organization's annual Scholar's Day Celebration at the Long Beach Yacht Club, 6201 E. Appian Way. The keynote speaker will be The Port of Long Beach's Executive Director, Mario Cordero.

The event is open to the public. Tickets are $100 per person. Sponsorship opportunities also are available.

For information and tickets, go to operationjumpstart.org.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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