New Book, ‘Forever Changed,’ Chronicles A Mentoring Program For Underprivileged Kids

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Linda Mornell’s Nonprofit Organization, Summer Search, Provides Empowerment For Disadvantaged Youth

Psychiatric nurse Linda Mornell tells the story of creating empowerment for disadvantaged youth with her new book, “Forever Changed: How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives.”

In 1990, with no experience in the nonprofit sector, Mornell created Summer Search, a unique program that identifies low income students and gets them scholarships to expensive experimental education programs worldwide. These are the same programs attended by affluent young people. It is one of the few entities in the country that allows adolescents from all economic backgrounds to have the chance to work and live together for an extended period of weeks or months in summer programs.

“I saw the lasting benefits of challenging summer programs in my own children and I thought, ‘Why not provide the same for children without access to the same resources?’ That’s why I started a program that fosters empowerment for disadvantaged youth’ ” she says.

Silena, a Summer Search alumna from 1992, grew up living in condemned housing without electricity in West Oakland, where she received many services. Now a college graduate and an executive director of a nonprofit, Silena says Summer Search was different in that it was reciprocal. Rather than seeing poverty, the program saw potential.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015, Summer Search is a one-of-a-kind program with a successful record of 100 percent graduation from high school and 75 percent graduation from college – a rate that is typically 11 percent for disadvantaged youth, according to data from Summer Search peers.

Summer experiential educational programs are expensive and generally not available to low-income youth. Seeing an opening to change that, Mornell asked summer program directors if they would like more diversity on their trips if she identified and prepared students from low-income backgrounds. The better ones were instantly interested and offered a 50 percent discount. Mornell then created Summer Search in San Francisco in 1990 with 14 students and a budget of $30,000. Her passion and desire to change the path for low-income students has caused those initial numbers to soar to include more than 3,000 students annually from seven cities – Boston, New York City, North San Francisco Bay, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Silicon Valley. Since then, Mornell has helped cultivate empowerment for disadvantaged youth.

“Forever Changed” describes how to identify and foster potential in young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and then hold them accountable for their own growth.

“At first, Linda’s treatment of my students seemed very harsh and judgmental, the polar opposite of my 28 years of training and experience with ‘at-risk’ students,” says Jan Hudson, a referring teacher. “Yet, as it turned out, I watched the students she worked with begin to blossom. Their self-esteem and confidence began to grow rather than shrink.”

The books includes compelling stories of Summer Search students who each faced and overcame specific challenges, such as severe learning disabilities, foster care, and an undocumented immigration status. In the book, Mornell persuasively describes how summer experiential education programs, combined with insight mentoring, can empower adolescents to find their own voice and embark on a path of success.

Amazon reviewer Harold Davis, who gives the book five stars says, “This is a book that gives hope. The lives of adolescents that Mornell worked with through Summer Search have been profoundly changed for the better. There’s also insight into resiliency. What kind of person sticks with it and makes it despite incredible (de)privation? How do you best interview adolescents from troubled backgrounds, and get them to open up and tell their stories? It turns out that even the (initial) intake interviews that Mornell and Summer Search conducted are transformative.”

About Linda Mornell

Linda Mornell is the founder of Summer Search (, a nonprofit organization that provides disadvantaged young people with life-changing and challenging summer opportunities and ongoing mentoring. She is also the author of the book “Forever Changed: How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives.” Mornell was born on a farm in Muncie, Ind. After getting her RN and bachelor’s degrees from Methodist Hospital and DePauw University, she headed west on a Greyhound bus. She received psychiatric training from Langley Porter at the University of California in San Francisco and married a psychiatric resident, Pierre Mornell. She has three adult children and seven grandchildren. Mornell divides her time among family, writing and consulting. In 2014, she was blessed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for her efforts to empower disadvantaged youth.

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Ginny Grimsley
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