FIRST PERSON: From Homeless to City Hall, With Love

10,000 Degrees Institute alumna and UC Berkeley junior, Kaila McDonald.
10,000 Degrees Institute alumna and UC Berkeley junior, Kaila McDonald.

I was raised by my great grandmother in San Leandro.  My mother had substance abuse problems and I never knew anything of my father.  When I was sixteen, the generational gap at home became unbearable.  As the first in my family to go to college, my great grandmother said that if I wanted a degree, I should join the military.

I knew I wasn’t cut out for military life after spending two years as a Naval Sea Cadet.  So I decided to pursue my college dream in another fashion.

I ran away from home and ended up in Marin.  I was so lost navigating this new foreign environment.  There was no AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), the college-tracking program I was nominated for by my teachers in San Leandro who saw potential in me.  I didn’t know how to go about filling out financial aid forms — a particularly difficult task with no financial information from my parents — or what materials I needed to be competitive for college.  Then I wandered into the College & Career center at Redwood High School and I was told about an upcoming scholarship from 10,000 Degrees. The next time I found myself in the College & Career center was with Monica Jimenez, the program coordinator at the time [Jimenez has since become an admissions coordinator at the Haas School of Business and is a member of our Board], who had called me for a 10,000 Degrees Institute interview. An awkward 17-year-old at the time, I had no idea that those 15 minutes would change my life.

Flash forward: After being part of the Summer Intensive, I was accepted to UC Berkeley, where, with the help of 10,000 Degrees, my tuition is fully covered. I am now in my third year as a Political Science major with a minor in Computer Science. 

I’m very active in Marin, most recently writing an article for the Marin Independent Journal about a mural project I’ve been working on this summer for my nonprofit, Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO).  It’s the only nonprofit in Marin that focuses on 16-25 year-old at-risk homeless youth.

Because of my work with AHO, I was appointed to serve on the recently formed San Rafael City Council Homelessness Stakeholders Group.  I, along with Mayor Phillips, Councilmember Levine, Planning Commissioner Colin and representatives from the City’s Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Improvement District will be working to reduce the issue of homelessness in the city.  I’ve also met with new police chief Diana Bishop about how homeless and struggling youth can be better served.

Since my graduation from the 10,000 Degrees Institute, I’ve been invited back every summer to lead the Personal Statement and Spoken Word Workshops for the next wave of 10,000 Degrees students.

My future plans include entering the field of politics or technology while pursuing my career as a singer and rapper.

Trying to make it to a life outlandish

First in my fam that made it to this campus

Now I’m strollin’ through in my Spandex

Thinkin’ how I gave up everything

just to have this

– Kaila McDonald (a.k.a. Kailove)