Try combining “El Cerrito” and “do-good” in a Google search, and you’re likely to stumble upon Andrew M. Gooden and the Gooden College Connection.(GCC)
But that’s just part of the story. It goes beyond El Cerrito.
In a relaxed interview at the Gooden home, “Andy’s” wife, Ruth Kleinman, whom I’d previously met in my nerve-racking rental travels, returned as interview subject. You might say, the role reversal happily extricated me from the hot seat.
But before interrogating Ruth about husband, Andy’s “brainchild” nonprofit, I had to satisfy my curiosity about “Drew Gooden.” His name uncannily popped up at the GCC website as an “honorary board member.”
The powerhouse basketball player whom I knew to be a crowd pleaser on the Milwaukee Bucks was a former El Cerrito High hoop star. (Here he’s pictured as a power forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers)
What was Drew’s “connection” to Ruth and Andy?
As if perfect timing cloaked my sports-obsessed inquiry, a tall, lanky figure named “Pep” appeared at the door. He was “Drew’s” dad and Andy’s son–the next link in the Gooden family chain.
“Pep,” as it turned out, dribbled his way to a Finnish team, and eventually nursed Drew’s basketball skills to a level that attracted college recruiters and then, the NBA.
Naturally, Drew’s stint at Kansas University brought proud grandparents, Ruth and Andy to the college sports arena to watch him play.
“At the time, we would shake our heads when walking around the campus,” Ruth said. “It was white with no minority students in sight.”
An architect by profession, she’d worked for years in college housing, noting a “vanilla” environment at U.C. Irvine and Stanford, among other higher ed locales.
“There was something wrong with this picture given the problems of poverty in our country, and what many minority students faced.”
Andy was unhappy with the status quo. He wanted to shake things up and change a landscape that under-represented students of color. But meeting the challenge required high levels of stamina, discipline, and determination.
According to Ruth, Andy had the perfect athletic background to aid his ardent pursuit.
“He was quite an outstanding baseball player who could have played in the Negro Leagues,” she said, “but he needed to support a growing family.”
Ruth also mentioned her husband’s military service and Judo training that were hard-driving elements of his GCC-channeled activism.
“Andy actually became a national master’s champion, working out regularly at the Albany Y Judo Club. And in time, he started his own dojo in the Richmond PAL (Police Athletic League) facility.”
Ruth insisted that kids as young as eight were engaged in an activity that taught high levels of discipline while building self-esteem.
“We used to do a lot of running around in those days,” she said. “Every Sunday, we would jump in the car and take a bunch of kids to compete.”
In June 2004, Andy fathered a non-profit 501c3 known as the “Gooden Family Scholarship Fund,” later renamed the Gooden College Connection.
Its goals, clearly articulated at the GCC website formed a solid foundation for meaningful change–the kind “Andy” envisioned.
“The Gooden College Connection is committed to helping academically capable, under-represented students achieve their goals toward higher education. We offer college preparatory services to selected high school scholars from West Contra Costa Unified School District and free public workshops about college.
“GCC believes that all interested students deserve a chance to receive higher education, regardless of their economic status. GCC is taking steps in our community to make a difference in the lives of promising high school students by offering college application support. Through our Scholar Project and Outreach Project we hope to increase the participation of low-income, under-represented students at major colleges and universities.”
Ruth praised the Scholar Awards program:
She noted that approximately 42 “Scholars” have gained admission to the finest schools and universities that include UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, among other higher learning institutions.
These impressive figures are supported by GCC Scholar testimonies. A host of individual success stories were published in the quarterly Newsletter.
Scholar, Enrique Cornejo, for example, who gained admission to UC Irvine, wrote how ACT tutoring was his favorite part of GCC. He complimented “Yale graduate, Andrea for increasing his scores the second time around. She made tutoring fun and engaging.”
Cornejo landed scholarships from the Ed Fund and College is Real.
Claudia Campos, another GCC Scholar praised college counselor, Sue Kim. “She always made sure I was doing everything that needed to be done, and she pushed me to do my best. Sometimes she would be very tough on me, yet it was for a good reason. Without help from GCC, I might not have become a UC Berkeley freshman.”
In addition to the UCB Incentive Award, Claudia received scholarships from The Eagle Foundation, West Contra Costa Retired Educators, Chevron Somos Latin American Hispanic Scholarship, and Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation.
Ruth Kleinman, emphasized that the most funded GCC Project under the Scholars Program is STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. That’s because GCC hires 4 or more skilled tutors to individually work with students at least 4 days a week.
She added that STEM subject areas are the bread and butter of today’s job market, though the humanities must not be overlooked. At GCC Board meetings various creative ideas are tossed around.
Drew Gooden, of course, is an honorary Board member along with a staple of volunteers from various walks of life.
As an example, two insurance agents are part of the team.
Ruth and Andy favor a cross-section of volunteers that includes school counselors, retired teachers, attorneys, business owners, and just those who want to give something back to the community.
And speaking of giving, how about attending the Annual Dinner and Silent Auction to be held at the Albany Community Center (1249 Marin Avenue, Albany, CA) on Friday October 5th, 2012.
7 p.m. Meet the Scholars; 7:30 p.m. Dinner
A lovely buffet with classical music as embellishment should be an enticement. (I will be at the piano for the occasion)
Cost: $60 per person, or $300 for a reserved table of six.
Please RSVP by September 12, 2012
Donations for the auction are being accepted.
Come hear the Scholars speak about their journeys to college with GCC support and greet them personally. Each one will be assigned a table for easy “access.”
As Ruth Kleinman emphasizes, GCC is about college “access” and reaching into Kennedy, Richmond and El Cerrito High school populations.
“Just note the response we receive each year to our ‘Road to College’ event,” she beams proudly.
Parents in the company of high school juniors pour into Dejean Middle School and soak up a day’s worth of college counseling offered by 30 of the most qualified experts around.
For this alone, GCC deserves community support.
So get on the Gooden College Connection Bandwagon along with President Andrew M. Gooden, and make it happen!
Post script: Three generations of Goodens