In 1975, Alexis Revis graduated from St. Anthony's Catholic High School. She wanted to go to college, but didn't know how to apply. So, she visited Project Open, a federally funded program that provided college counseling to about 800 inner-city youth in the Shaw community.
Five years later, Revis, 23, is a graduate of American University and works as an associate producer at a local television station.
During that time also, Project Open has expanded its services. It has established an additional office in the Anacostia-Congress Heights area, set up satellite offices in several high schools and churches and is now called the Educational Opportunity Center (EOC).
Last Tuesday, the two EOC branches held an "open house" to encourage more people to use its services.
Since it began in 1967, the informatiion-counseling program has aided 12,000 District youths.
When Revis went for help, she recalled, the counselors "gave me a better idea about what I could do with a college education and how to go about doing it."
Older adults also use the services at the center, which receives a $300,000 a year grant from the Department of Education.
Paulette Morgan, EOC director, said, "Six of every 10 people who go to the center for help succeed in getting into a post-secondary institution." In the program's early years, Morgan said, about 40 percent of the students who entered school drop out because they lack sufficient financial aid.
The EOC employs a relatively simple method for helping students get into college or technical school. AN EOC counselor first reviews a student's high school record to assess his strengths and weaknesses and then tries to get a clear understanding of the student's goals.
After that, the counselor helps the student select a college or vocational institution appropriate to his needs and abilities, informs him of entrance requirements, and points out financial aid sources and how to apply for them.
The EOC program also offers tutoring services and helps students obtain fee waivers for applying to schools and taking the Standard Aptitude Test (SAT).
There are several shelves and cabinets full of college applications, brochures and financial aid information at the EOC's two main ofices. In addition, the Control Data Corporation has donated one Plato computer terminal to the Anacostia office on which students can study several college-level courses including basic math and business administration.
Charles Webb, 30, who has been an EOC counselor for about four years, says most young people who visit the center are already motivated to gain college degrees or achieve some sort of professional training.
"The main thing they want to know about is financial aid," said Webb. "But, we find that they also need to know about the whole process of getting into college, such as taking the SAT, and determining how much money it's going to take when travel and other expenses are considered."
Once students find out about going to college, they are able to focus on two or three schools that would best fit their needs, Webb said. Most students served by the program attend predominantly black colleges because of the support services available.
One of the EOC offices is located in the "low-income, disadvantaged" Anacostia and far Southeast area of the city, Morgan noted.
"We realize that there were no post-secondary institutions in this community. This meant that students interested in higher education and career opportunities would have to go outside their own communities, which most are not accustomed to doing."
Morgan insisted that "having resources available within the community has made a difference." Since 1976, when EOC moved into the spacious office at 2124 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, the program has served an additional 1,500 people each year. Mindful of the many youths in the area who have dropped out of school for one reason or another, counselors recruit students for city-wide training programs designed to prepare them to take a high school equivalency exam.
Because of high unemployment in their neighborhoods, many young people think that gaining a college education is useless, Morgan said. However, she and the EOC's 20 counselors and support staff see things differently.
"Education is still the key to self development, progress and success," Morgan said.