On a spring afternoon in 1990, Linda Mornell sat in her Volkswagen waiting for her children to emerge from their private high school in San Francisco. She watched an African American young man calling out greetings to the other students. He was in her daughter’s class at school and she knew he was there on a scholarship. His classmates smiled but passed him by. He stood alone.
Growing up on a farm in Indiana, Linda knew what it felt like to be on the outside of things. She thought about her own three kids, growing up in a rural town attending the small, local public school, and how they too struggled to adjust to the privileged culture of their private high school.
She and her husband had sent each of their children on summer wilderness trips to support their transition. They came home with a deeper resiliency and resolve, and much more confidence.
She was struck by an idea.
What would a summer trip do for this boy—his confidence, his sense of himself and his place in the world? And how could she find a way to send him on a trip, too?
In that instant Summer Search was born and it was a defining moment in Linda’s life, and ultimately for the lives of thousands of young people. That first year, with no experience raising money, Linda negotiated, fundraised and networked into creation scholarships to residential summer programs for 14 low-income teenagers. Like her own children, these teenagers came home braver, stronger and more self-assured.
But it wasn’t enough. The students had changed, but the challenges at home remained the same. They needed additional support to reconcile their life-changing summer experiences with the ongoing realities of their lives.
From 1990 to 1995, Linda ran the program alone. With the support of founding board chair John Osterweis, Linda had the flexibility to experiment in those important early years. Linda soon added a second summer trip, ongoing mentoring and college counseling for high school seniors, gradually turning a simple idea into a powerful intervention.
In 1995, two highly-talented and dedicated young people applied to work for Summer Search. Jay Jacobs opened the first satellite office in Boston and Katherine Kennedy (née Calihan) joined Linda in expanding the San Francisco program. As Jay and Katherine assumed leadership roles, Linda dedicated her time to teaching and training her complex and sensitive mentoring methods to a growing staff. Katherine became the Executive Director of the San Francisco office and Jay began to shape Summer Search into his dream of becoming a national organization.
The comprehensive program now spans a crucial seven to nine year period, giving high school students what they need to develop the personal and practical skills to become college-educated leaders who give back to their families and communities.
Linda continues to add occasional wisdom and guidance while day-to-day leadership is provided by Amy Saxton, Summer Search CEO.
Today, Summer Search has a national presence, working with young people in five regions across the country—the Bay Area, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle. In 2015 they were delighted to celebrating their 25th Anniversary.