Free Pizza Sets Leo on a Path to Success

By Giving List Staff   |   November 18, 2022

Leo* heard about free pizza after school. The middle schooler happily got a slice and listened to a pitch about the Determined to Succeed (DTS) college prep program at his future high school in Los Angeles. When Leo told his mom about it, she said there was no way he could join with his failing grades and habit of cutting class. 

But the program counselors said students don’t have to be at the top of their class. They only need to be, quite literally, determined to succeed. Leo surprised his mom by committing to the long-term program that guides first-generation, low-income college candidates from 8th grade through college graduation and into professional careers.  

At Alexander Hamilton High School, where over 50% of students come from low-income families, Leo attended daily DTS programming where he met with his Advisor, received unlimited tutoring in all subjects, and developed friendships with his college-bound peers. Soon, the staff uncovered the reason behind his low self-esteem and poor middle school performance: an undiagnosed learning disability. Once DTS helped get accommodations in place, Leo realized he was capable of achieving. His grades climbed and he stopped skipping classes. 

When Mimi Neandross became executive director in 2017 she brought the nonprofit out from under an umbrella organization into an independent 501(c)(3) with 13 board members. Beyond academic and career development, DTS’s whole child approach also includes wellness and family engagement. During the pandemic, when Leo struggled with depression, DTS connected him to and paid for mental health care. The organization also covers hidden college costs, from laptops to reading glasses, that can derail low-income students. 100% of students who remain in the program graduate from college in four years. 

In August 2022, Leo moved into his freshman dorm at a Cal Poly University with help from his proud mom and a DTS alumna who also graduated from the college. Neandross says, “Leo’s story is just one example of the organization’s ability to identify and address each of our 80 students’ distinct needs.” 

“A child who came in for a piece of pizza, left with a dream of a better life and the support he needed to achieve it.”  


Determined to Succeed

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(310) 922-0428
Director of Philanthropy: Diana Monaco


Faith Electric will match up to $5000 of donations given on Giving Tuesday!


To provide the opportunity to underserved students to attend and graduate from college with the knowledge, life skills, and tools needed to succeed. Higher education plays a pivotal role in breaking the cycle of poverty – changing not just lives, but also families and even communities.

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We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s director of development and/or Executive Director.

DTS demonstrates tremendous results and also brings out the best of humanity in everybody. How can you not want to get involved? I was a low-income and first-generation-to-college student, and the life-changing impact of a program like DTS resonates deeply for me.
Abdiel Garcia
Determined to Succeed Board Member

Are You Determined to Help Students Succeed?

There are two important ways you can support DTS students. The first is with a financial gift:

•$7,500: Provides 12 months of comprehensive services for an underserved student and their family to support college preparation, college completion, and career development.

•$5,000: Supports college access workshops for 100 Hamilton High School students.

•$2,500: Supports DTS college scholarsips to help reduce the burden of exorbitant student loans.

The second way is by offering career guidance through internship opportunities for college students or company site visits for high school students.

Please reach out today to help kids like Leo who are determined, succeed. 

Key Supporters

Elijah and Christine Adams
Peter and Alissa Bartle
Bilanin Family Foundation
Joe Blackstone and Jamie Mohn
California Community Foundation
Graham and Kimi Culp
Jared Cohen
Abdiel and Clara Garcia
Kim and Todd Goldstein
Kyle and Kim Harimoto
Heidi Hendrix and Ken Wimer
Jordana and Mark Jaffe
Bertram and Raquel Lewitt
Sarah and Carlos Montoya
Jamie and Josh Phillips
Jessica and Eric Reid
Weingart Foundation
Zolla Family Foundation