As a child working in the fields alongside his farmworker parents in Parlier, California, Martin Mares’ mother would regularly tell him, ‘Mijo, you are going to be someone very important — a lawyer or a doctor.’ His third grade teacher would tell him and the other children of poor farmworkers, ‘You will grow up to become world leaders.’
“The words we speak to each other are very, very important,” said Mares, who founded the Ivy League Project — a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged students apply for prestigious universities — in 1992 in his hometown of Parlier, the fourth-poorest city in the state. To date, the Ivy League Project has helped 280 high schoolers in California and Arizona get accepted at Ivy League universities, and some 1,500 students to get accepted at University of California campuses.
Mares, now president of the Ivy League Project, shared his story at Southern California Edison’s sixth annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Sept.23 at SCE’s Energy Education Center - Tulare. The annual event recognizes and celebrates Hispanic heritage, and honors business customers and partners who are making a difference in their communities.
The 140 attendees, including elected officials from Tulare County and nearby cities of Porterville, Hanford and Delano, listened as Mares, former chief academic officer and superintendent for the Parlier Unified School District, added: “I saw promise. I saw students who could become world leaders.”
Mares spoke of a Harvard admissions officer who passed on one of the Ivy League Project’s first students, explaining that an all-Latino high school wouldn’t prepare him for their rigorous academic environment. Mares told the admissions officer, ‘OK, but you should know that (the student) will be attending Yale, your archrival.’
A few years later, Mares said with a smile, that same Yale graduate was accepted to Harvard’s Medical School.
Event honorees included the city of Hanford and local grocery chain Palace Food Depot for accomplishments in energy efficiency; the Tulare County Symphony Association which received an award for community partnership; and local Latino-woman owned firm Skillplex which received an award for its work as a diverse business enterprise.
“Edison International and Southern California Edison have a proud history of giving back to communities in our diverse service territory,” said Pedro Pizarro, president of Edison International. “As one of the largest philanthropic contributors in Southern California, we are committed to investing in our communities through our support of our employees, suppliers, community outreach partners and energy-efficiency champions. Through these meaningful partnerships, we are able to have a long-lasting impact on those we serve.”