Samuel Lauderdale grew up as the youngest of three brothers in a single-mother, low-income household. He was always a good student, until high school was on the horizon. He started hanging out with kids that sold drugs and got bad grades, and says he “wasn’t necessarily getting in trouble,” but would “fight a lot.”
Lauderdale also didn’t have a firm understanding of what college was and didn’t see the point of getting good grades. “I didn’t think I needed any more school after high school to be successful,” he says.
Then in his sophomore year at Valley High School in south Sacramento, Lauderdale joined Improve Your Tomorrow, after learning about it at a school presentation.
Improve Your Tomorrow was founded in 2013 by Michael Lynch and Michael Casper to assist young men of color from Sacramento County. The nonprofit started with 17 students, and now works with nearly 700 young men. Participants get 12 years of support from middle school through college, with services including college preparation, mentorship, academic support, cognitive skills development and parent engagement. According to Lynch, co-founder and CEO, IYT currently has a 100 percent high school graduation rate, a 66 percent A-G completion rate and a 94 percent college attendance rate.
“Improve Your Tomorrow became that second family that was looking out for me.” Samuel Lauderdale, lead academic mentor at Valley High School, Improve Your Tomorrow
Lauderdale latched onto IYT, learning that a college degree made financial struggle less likely, as his own family would occasionally struggle to keep food on the table. “That resonated with me and made me want to do better in school so I can support my family in the future,” he says.
Being involved in IYT — and sports — helped Lauderdale realize that he couldn’t keep hanging around bad influences, because he might adopt this behavior. “IYT became that second family that was looking out for me,” he says. The mentors helped him not only with school work, but handling the social and emotional stresses of adolescence by “always checking in on me,” he adds. “They became like those big brothers that continually watched out for me in high school.”
For Lauderdale, seeing black and Latino men on an IYT field trip to Stanford University prompted him to reconsider his academic goals. “Not only were we informed about college and how to get there by students who looked like us on campus, we ate great food and had a good time,” Lauderdale says.
Now, Lauderdale is a junior at Sacramento State, majoring in computer science/computer engineering with a goal of working at a tech company for a few years before starting his own.
Lynch says Lauderdale has gained perseverance, work ethic and leadership through the program. “To me, one of the most remarkable things about Sam, is that he doesn’t give up,” Lynch says. “He’s gritty.”
Lynch gives the example that while Lauderdale struggled with math in school, he didn’t give up and took Algebra 2 three times. Lauderdale says he ultimately raised his math grade to be A-G eligible his senior year.
Today, things have come full circle. Lauderdale is giving back to the community as IYT’s lead academic mentor at Valley High School, with a caseload of 25 students. He meets with them in both group and individual sessions, and they work on everything from accountability to goal setting to college research.
“I realize what IYT did for me, and that made me happy that they did that for me, so why not spread the love and the wealth and do that for other, younger kids?” Lauderdale says.