WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A nonprofit college readiness program is helping to send low-income students to top-tier colleges and universities.

Palm Beach County based Path to College is offering after-school programs to enhance the academic and testing skills for Title 1 high school students who are living at the poverty threshold.

The fellowship program which debuted in 2017 targets students living in impoverished areas who lack academic and financial resources to prepare them for longterm careers.

The program fills the void by preparing students for college entrance exams and filling out college applications, and improving their academics in schools, among other requirements to get accepted into colleges and universities.

Mary Beth Mudrick, senior director of Development for Path to College, said 110 high school students from the Palm Beach County area are currently enrolled in the program which has reached about 1,000 kids through its college prep workshops.

WENSDERELEY ULYSSEE: Accepted to study engineering at the University of Florida.

The program is currently renting spaces and using local libraries and community centers within walking distances for students who lack transportation.

That will change once Path to College moves into a 5,000-square-foot building near Lake Worth High School, 1701 Lake Worth Rd., which is being converted into the Catapult Youth Mentoring Center.

Mudrick said 100 percent of students go on to universities and colleges with little or no debt with 60 percent of students being accepted to top-tier institutions, which she estimates equates to "an additional 21 percent increase in their earning potential.

She said 81 alumni went on to earn four-year degrees from Harvard, Stanford University, Emory Florida State University and the University of Florida and other top colleges and universities.

"There’s a tool of path for students to take but not from people who would benefit from it the most," Mudrick said. "Our program reaches out and serves low-income students with support services for their academics to become eligible to be accepted into top colleges."

Murdick said Blacks benefit the most from Path to College with 51.9 percent enrolled in the program followed by 35.4 percent Hispanics, 5.1 percent Asian Pacific and 2.5 percent white.

She said students get one-on-one tutoring and mentorship including dealing with mental health issues which can impact their chances of a college education.

Murdick said a survey taken in 2022 revealed mental illness was the biggest hurdle for academic achievement for low-income students who dealt with family issues and food and housing utilities insecurity.

Murdick said each student is assigned a mentor who helps them overcome their problems and keep them focused on their academics and career plans.

"Mentors are always there for support when the day is rough for a student," she said. "One mentor invited a student to dinner with his family which is a way to address mental health, showing students that you care for them and their well-being."

Christine Syvain, founder and executive director for Career Path, launched the program after teaching at a Title 1 school in Palm Beach County and discovered the disparity between low-income students and their counterparts from wealthier families.

"She realized a difference between kids who can afford to prepare for college and the ones who also had bright futures but not the finances to help them prepare for college," Muridick said. "One has parents who could afford programs to make them well-rounded candidates and some didn’t."

There’s a need because students seem lost, said Dr. Melissa Neider, academic program manager for Path to College. "They don’t know in terms of getting into college and we really helped paved that path for them."

Wensdereley Ulyssee, who’s Black, said his future seemed bleak growing up in poverty until he enrolled at Path to College.

"I didn’t know how to get there (college), but now I do and I’m going forward," said Ulyssee who’s been accepted to attend the University of Florida to study engineering.

Melany Camaraza said the program opened many doors for her future.

"Path of College has meant a lot to me because it has prepared me for college opportunities," she said.