Student Blog

Father’s Day at The Hunger Project

There is nothing like helping someone less fortunate than yourself.

Sure, this seems a bit cliché, and perhaps it is, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

At Access, we do quite a few different community service projects. These all require different skill sets, sure, but generally we walk away with the same good feelings when it’s over. The Hunger Project stands out in this way.

The Hunger Project is a soup kitchen located in downtown San Diego. It’s one of my favorite places to go, all though that hasn’t always been true. It’s hard to see all of these people and families come in off the street. Your heart aches, and even though you’re doing something to help those people, you wish you could do more.

At the same time, we always have tons of fun. The work is hard and tiring, but the reward is right in front of you. People are smiling, happy, warm, enjoying the food in front of them. The impact is palpable, visible. It might not last forever, but we did something with the time we had.

Doing it on Father’s day really put it in a different perspective. Quite a few families were there that day. In some ways, this is the hardest part about volunteering. On the other hand, helping parents and their kids makes the activity all the more relevant. This could’ve been any of us. That might seem like an exaggeration, but it’s true.

It’s almost like facing what could have been and helping out the people who were slightly more unlucky than you are. And that is powerful.

In the end, we helped 700 people and passed out a ton of books. I hope they enjoyed the meal and the books. Hopefully we gave them a little piece of peace in the turbulent world they live in.

By: Felipe Delacruz

News, Student Blog

Panel with Community Leaders

By Kacey McCoig, Health and Wellness Coordinator.


Last week, I organized a panel discussion for our middle and high schoolers here at Access The panelist were amazing community leaders and the students amazing future leaders. This panel discussion gave them the opportunity to ask anonymous questions that were on their mind or questions that they were too embarrassed to ask. Most of the questions revolved around relationships, saying good-bye, rejection and quite frankly, sex. Not surprising at that age…and if we’re honest…we still share some of these same questions. If I’m totally honest, I was listening closely too and reaping some of the benefits as well.

One of our panelists, Sean Sheppard, the founder of Embrace, a non-profit here in San Diego focused on mobilizing college students to volunteer and serve underserved civilian and military populations all over the country, provided an easy to remember, simple, applicable and quite possibly true guideline to keep in mind. This was the two G’s.

It went something like this: There are two kinds of people in the world: givers and get-ers. Givers are individuals who give of themselves and what they have without any attached expectation to receive in return. Get’ers make their moves in order to…you guessed it…get.

Simple enough? I thought about it. What am I? I think I’m a giver. I’ve been accused of having expectations before, however. Is it always bad to expect…something in return? I agree with Mr. Sheppard, and I think I will move forward, keeping this close to the surface and see what effect(s) it has. I will be open to the possibility that I can improve, expect less, give more and more importantly, give from a place of true compassion and nurturing care for others. I will let you know my observations.

Perhaps you may want to take on this type of self-investigation yourself. If you’re on this site, then you’re seeking something Some truth for you. Some answers to your questions, even though they may be simply food-related. I do find; however, and you will come to see this if we shall ever meet, that many of our food and lifestyle choices stem from a bit of a deeper layer of the onion. This exercise, as is the advice, is simple (Let me know if you think otherwise) and therefore one that we may benefit from trying out.

So, what about you and how does this relate to your health and wellness? Who do you give to? Receive from? Are their stipulations and how do these arrangements serve you and those around you? Who do you surround yourself with? How do you and those around receive what is being offered..or take? What are you giving to yourself? Why? Or…why not? How does this affect you and if it’s less than a positive, desirable effect, what do you want for yourself instead? I encourage you to write the answers to these questions down. You may be surprised with what you find.

That’s a good start. Once we have our answers, lets take the next step. What can change, how and where, big or little, that will serve us and those around us? How can we be the most nurturing sense of the word? And, what’s stopping us?

Remember, this is not a selfish act. It is a universal truth that we have to take care of ourselves in order to really care for anyone else. This act is actually an extremely courageous act that will positively impact those around you. This message may have transformed a bit from its original context and meaning, but I think it’s applicability is what makes it such good advice. I encourage you to apply, and see what happens.



Second panel of the year organized by our Access Health & Wellness Coordinator, Kacey McCoig.

News, Student Blog

The College Program

It’s been about 12 months since I started working with Access as their College Coordinator, and in those 12 months, I’ve come to learn a lot about working with students, managing and distributing information through various channels such as newsletters, Facebook pages, word of mouth, and many others, kept notes on services we could provide our students, and more. But the overall year was filled with repeat trial and error. From my experiences with the students, I have been able to distinguish what kinds of things would truly make an impact during their time in college. And it’s important to remember when thinking about these things that a college student’s time is taken up with so much more than just studying and mastering their academics. While this may be a key factor to their success, our students’ reach is much larger than that. As an organization, Access provides our students with the necessary resources to help reach that success. By providing services through health and wellness, academics, and professional/career development, our students are able to receive support in any aspect of their college life, regardless if it’s school related or personal.

Because Access is a 12-year program, we are able to assist them throughout their time in middle school and high school, further into their college education, and even a couple of years further after their graduation. With the help of my co-workers, our college students, and my personal experience as a student in college, I’ve been able to create Access Youth Academy’s college program.


In short, our students first come into the program at the start of 7th grade, go through middle school and high school with the help of our Academic Coordinator, get through college, and continue on past their graduation from their universities with a degree in their hands. Seems pretty straightforward, but there are a lot of moving pieces in between that make it all come together. Because the program adds up to being 12 years (6 years in middle school and high school, 4 years in college, and 2 years post college), we call this the “12-year promise.” This extensive amount of time with our students allows us to prepare those in Phase 1 (middle school and high school) for the years in college ahead of them.


As college coordinator, I’m specifically in charge of Phase 2 and 3 of the program. These pertain to college freshman – seniors (Phase 2), and follows college graduates two years after their graduation (Phase 3).

Starting with Phase 1, Access begins to prepare their students for college by providing tutoring and guidance in order to better their chances at succeeding in Phase 2 and 3. Guidance includes a “College Readiness” program that allows the seniors to gain a full scope of what it’s like in college, from academics to building a social life, this college readiness program allows for these seniors to be better prepared for their freshman year.

Once in college, we’re there to help make our student’s lives a bit easier. Whether this be taking the stress away from a job interview through the help of our mentors and volunteers, providing an internship opportunity for the summer, helping our students network in the professional workforce, or help develop a personal career plan, Access guides our students through the various facets of their college lives.

While in Phase 2, our mission is to maximize our student’s academic experience, increase the amount of summer opportunities available to them, and focus on building and strengthening their future careers. Once our students graduate from their universities, our focus is more on personal development, their connection to the team, and on becoming ambassadors for themselves, the people around them, and Access Youth Academy as a whole. The idea is that by the time our students graduate from college, they’ll give back to the program through various ways such as mentorships, tutoring, volunteering or many others.

With all of this in mind, I took into account all the different aspects of “the college life” and put together what we call The College Program. What we had initially thought was an amazing idea, getting first generation college students to be as prepared and successful before college (and eventually through college) is all finally a reality. After ten years of operations, our first cohorts of Access students have finally reached a long awaited milestone: graduation. This means that as of this past month in May, we officially have graduated these students onto phase 3, making them the first to graduate from their universities and moved onto the workforce, graduate school, and many others.

I’m excited to see what this position has to bring in the upcoming months.

Looking back on these past eight years that I’ve been a student at Access, and now as college coordinator for the program, it’s great seeing all my teammates whom I once practiced with reach great success.

Wishing you all the best in your futures!

Eric Malo

Access Youth Academy College Coordinator



Eric (third from left), regularly puts together events for the phase 2 & 3 students when they are back in San Diego to enhance their experiences and continue to feel connected to the program. The above photo was taken from one such event, the 2015 Alumni vs Nationals Team Tournament.


2016 Seniors Graduation & 10th Anniversary Volunteer Appreciation Event

Two more Access Youth Academy students will be graduating from the first phase of our innovative 12 year urban squash and education program to join both local and national universities and will be joined by around 50 of our key volunteers as we continue our 10th Anniversary Celebrations.

We are very proud to introduce our 5th graduating class. Johnny (Wesleyan University) & Nghi (UCSD) were welcomed into our successful program in 2010 and all their hard work and determination has paid off with both students being accepted into their dream colleges, with Nghi also being accepted as a Gates Millennium Scholar.

For more information or to RSVP for this event please email Victor Marques at or call 858.202.0406

Graduation 2016 - 5.13.16 (Front)


Graduation 2016 - 5.12.16 (Back)



10th Anniversary Gala ~ Venue Announcement

Access Youth Academy has been transforming young lives since 2006. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, partners, and supporters, ten years later we continue to provide vital after school programming built on our four pillars of Academic Achievement, Health & Wellness, Leadership, and Social Responsibility. We will be celebrating our achievements over the past decade and honoring our first students to graduate through college during our Annual Gala on Saturday, October 22, 2016 at the San Diego Hall of Champions, Balboa Park from 6:00 pm – 10:00pm.
Tickets are now available for purchase with tables of 11 (includes an Access student host) ranging from $1000 – $3000 and individual seats from $100 – $300. A floor plan is included for your convenience below.

So what are you waiting for? Secure your spot today and come meet and be inspired by our students achievements as they celebrate their graduations from Ivy League schools such as Columbia and UPenn and leading local universities including SDSU.




Gala Event Floor Plan - Color_EDITED_3

Student Blog


By Kacey McCoig, Health and Wellness Coordinator.


Practice. Not just a word. Sit for a minute and contemplate its meaning.

The words that come to my mind: repetition, sweat, discipline, frustration and empowerment, growing, gaining.

In fact, this is the unique component that attracted me to Access in the first place. Sport. Not squash, the sport. But sport in general. What a powerful tool. I know it was for me…there’s no way I’d be who I am today if sport wasn’t central in my life growing up. Why? Because it’s a practice. Practice…period…no matter what type of practice, teaches lessons relevant and applicable to our larger lives, to the bigger picture. They can be amplified and used as an analogy to just about any situation and used to obtain perspective. No? Am I wrong about this?

As the Health & Wellness Coordinator here at Access, I dish out a lot of information, but what I really aim to do here is promote…personal practice. One way we’re doing this is through setting personal goals and designing personal implementation plans for big or small, easy or not-so-easy goals. I have students reporting progress in the form of: drinking more water, decreased stressed, improved organization, breathing, taking time for self, heightened levels of personal peace. How great is that? For me, the success isn’t when they get in their five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Rather, it’s the experience of creating a plan, sticking to it and being able to grasp a higher rung on the ladder and say “I did it.” Like sport, this is a practice, and one that has no boundaries when it comes to applicability. Like practicing any sport, the process doesn’t necessarily get any easier, but it does heighten self-efficacy, a momentous means of breaking down barriers and looking up even higher on the ladder.

As a dietitian, one of my pet peeves is when adults comment that children can eat whatever they want…they’re young enough. On the flip side; however, we dish out really good advice that we are old enough to not take ourselves. (No judgment…most of us are at least a little bit guilty) But, isn’t this oftentimes the case? “Eat your vegetables.” “You shouldn’t watch so much television. Your brain is still developing.” I’m sure we could think of a number of them. The fact is that we do this because it’s hard to adopt or change behaviors, and goal-setting though effective, is a very systematic process that requires time, trust, repetition, and discipline (these words sound familiar?). It requires practice, and there’s not really a short cut. I say we’re not really serious about a goal until we write it down. So…we need to physically write down our plans, tell others about it for a means of accountability, anticipate and strategize a way around obstacles.  And, (yeah!) we need to wisely select how and when to reward ourselves when we achieve progress.

This was like nutrition counseling 101 in college, and I was the goal setting, disciplined master of achievement. But years later in grad school, I took a class on behavior change (kind of the focal point of public health), which, through the semester, forced me to go through this process again. I use the word, “force” intentionally because…I didn’t want to do it. My mental talk sounded much like what I hear from some of the students… ”There’s nothing I want to work on.”  “I’m not going to stick to this plan.”  “It’s not my priority.” When, in fact, I was just out of…practice. Only when we truly practice and cultivate a new behavior do we develop a new mindset or evolve our current ones. And, if we choose wisely in what and how we practice, it is possible to cultivate a lasting state of awareness, a state of motivation and persistent and overriding consideration of “me.” Does that sound selfish? No way. What that translates to is a conscious state of choosing how you talk to yourself and how to make decisions that are in line with who you are, what your body, mind and spirit really wants or needs at that point in time.

Without practice, we will likely, as I did, forget what we “know” and repeatedly act or think in a manner that doesn’t quite align with our goals or with (on a deeper level) see ourselves to be.

Obviously, this isn’t just for kids…it may sound a bit drastic to some of you, but it’s really pretty fundamental. This process…this practice can be applied to simple, daily lifestyle choices or to very complicated and difficult to address issues. Now, this is the really important part. It’s not about the information, which we have or can get at any time. It’s about the practice: going through the motions, coming back to the intention, finding that discipline and experiencing…physical, mentally, emotionally, the sensations of growth.

So go get some for yourself, and if I can be of help anyway, please don’t hesitate. We’re a community supporting one another. Thank you for your continued support for these amazing kids and this program. Reach out any time, stop by the club and meet the students if you haven’t already. I wish you all the best in your practice.


Access Health & Wellness Coordinator, Kacey McCoig, is leading from the front when it comes to helping our students live healthier lives through the mindfulness of their actions.


Two Students Selected To Participate In Prestigious Urban Citizenship Tour

What does it mean to be an engaged citizen? What are the different ways that each of us can make a difference in our respective communities? The Urban Squash Citizenship Tour will give 22 civically minded and academically accomplished high school and college students from across the country the opportunity to explore these questions and more over an 8 day swing across the East Coast.

We are proud to announce that both America S. and Access College Coordinator Eric Malo have both been selected to participate in Citizenship Tour in July. This tour is a terrific opportunity to become informed citizens and to highlight the importance of public service within the country’s 17 urban squash programs. The trip will focus on the topic of civil rights and its role in shaping our nation’s identity, politics, and history, beginning in New York City, travelling through Philadelphia, and ending in Washington, DC.

During the trip, students will spend time with leaders in government, journalism, education, policy and the nonprofit community; visit sites that have played a part in American history; engage with local urban squash programs; exercise and practice at university and urban squash facilities; and promote NUSEA’s local member programs and urban squash generally.

This is the third year of the Citizenship Tour and highlights of last year’s Tour included meetings with Secretary of Education​ Arne Duncan, ​Senator ​Kirsten Gillibrand, ​Senator ​Heidi Heitkamp, Senator​ Al Franken​, Congressman ​Elijah Cummings, A​cting Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions U.S. Department of the Treasury ​Amias Gerety, ​and Commissioner of NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs ​Nisha Agarwal.

The group will again tour the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and New York Times Building in New York City, visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and tour the U.S. Capitol and the White House in Washington, D.C.



Victor Marques Joins The Access Development Team

Access Youth Academy is happy to announce that Victor Marques has joined the development team as its new Development Coordinator.

Victor was born and raised in Salvador, Brazil, and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Ruy Barbosa University. Following his graduation he spent two years as an Associate Auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers, providing external team audits for many non-profit and for-profit clients.

Making the big move to California, Victor spent almost three years with the non-profit organization Junior Youth Empowerment Program where he helped raise the capacity of young adolescents to understand the realities of their community and empower them to serve and transform their neighborhoods.

Get to know the team – A Q&A with Victor Marques

What drew you to this role at Access?
Coming from another youth focused non-profit and learning more about Access’s mission is what ultimately attracted me to apply for this position. I was able to see the impact the program has in the lives of those youth evolved and wanted to play a role. By empowering the youth to take ownership of their academic, professional, personal lives allows them to become positive agents of social transformation.
What are your goals for the coming year?
Because I’ve recently move to San Diego, I feel that for this upcoming year I will be learning more about ways to contribute to the betterment of my community.
What motivates you in life?
What motivates me in life is the desire to always strive for excellence in all different aspects of my life. This desire pushes me to excel higher and higher levels. 
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy surfing.
Do you play squash?
I actually had never played squash before joining the Access team, but now that I have learned the basics and played a few times I can see the sport becoming a hobby of mine as well.
Victor will be predominantly working on small gifts and grants. You can contact Victor at


NUSEA Visits Access For Bi-yearly Review

All NUSEA programs are evaluated bi-yearly by a revolving panel of Executive Directors from veteran urban squash programs. This year, Access was evaluated by NUSEA’s ED, Tim Wyant. The evaluation includes observing programming in all facets on and off court, interviewing students, parents, volunteers, our partner school, staff and board– all the moving pieces of the organization. The two day visit was an opportunity to observe the strengths of the program, strong work ethic of both students and staff, and the overall growth of the program.

While attending an Access Youth Academy board meeting, Tim commented on the success of the Access; highlighting the long-term results of the Access program, the caliber of colleges the students are accepted to, the strong partnership with Preuss, the development of a Health & Wellness program, as well as the “on the ground work” as being exceptional.

Tim Wyant provides an overview of NUSEA, its programs, and support for member organizations to the Access Board.

National Squash and Education Association (NUSEA) Executive Director, Tim Wyant provides an overview of NUSEA, its programs, and support for member organizations to the Access Board at its February meeting.



International Women’s Day takes place today and to mark the event, the Professional Squash Association (PSA) has picked some of the most inspirational and influential women ever to play squash, which includes homegrown talent and Access Youth Academy student Reyna Pacheco.

An affiliate of the World Squash Federation (WSF), the Professional Squash Association (PSA) is the global governing body responsible for the administration of both men’s and women’s professional squash around the world and released the following statement regarding Ms. Pacheco’s inclusion in this influential list.

“World No.79 Reyna Pacheco had to work hard to hone her talent and make it as a professional player and her story is certainly an inspirational one.

A Mexican immigrant who moved to the United States when she was just four years old, she found adapting to life in a different country a challenge but that soon changed when she was introduced to squash.

She became the first player to come through the urban squash program and begin a career as a professional and is proof that squash is open to everyone regardless of social status or upbringing”. 

At just 21 years of age and due to graduate from Columbia University this year as a Gates Millennium Scholar, Pacheco has a big future ahead of her and a mature outlook on both her own individual goals and the expectations the sport is putting on her shoulders with honors like the one today.

“I am honored to be included in a list with women who have truly achieved incredible things for our sport and while squash has come a long way in terms of gender equality both on and off the court, there are still a lot of steps left to take for our sport, for urban squash and for women around the world in general in terms of equality.

“I look forward to my own evolution as a positive role model for my community, the students at Access Youth Academy where this journey began back in 2006, and urban squash programs across the country. I hope to prove that we can all achieve our dreams regardless of the color of our skin, our economic status or our gender” Ms. Pacheco said

In a big day for the organization, Access Youth Academy Strategic Advisor Sarah Fitz-Gerald was also announced on the PSA’s prestigious list. Reyna spent this past summer in Australia working with former World Champion Fitz-Gerald and came back fired up for a big 2016 of which she has already cracked the top 100 rankings to a career high number 79 (ranked female player) in the world.

“I am elated to be named among people who I truly admire. I look forward to continue to work really hard on and off court to be like and achieve the kinds of things that these women have achieved and look forward to what the future holds” Ms. Pacheco said.

Reyna Pacheco in action for the Columbia University Squash team

Reyna Pacheco in action for the Columbia University Squash team