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What Happened to Adrian Hernandez?

Adrian is a young man that has a passion to direct films. In fall 2014, he will be attending USC Film School this coming fall.  However, without MAPS, he would not be attending film school. In the past, Adrian was introverted and clamored.  Once bullied, outcasted from peers, and depressed, he found MAPS.  From the program, he increased in confidence, a voice, and friends. He found the motivation and drive to direct nine plays.  He started his own independent short films, and a review series that analyzes issues in a critical light.


What advice would you give to people if they were considering participating in the SPICES Program right now?

Do it, quite simply do it. It’s a very wonderful experience and it’s really going to change you. A lot of people I knew from the program was changed as well. They were like me, very clamored, very withheld, very introverted. And they …expanded and started branching out and they’re really achieving their potential now–which is something that not very many people get to do, especially at a young age.” – Adrian Hernandez

May 11, 2014   Testimonial

My name is Adrian Hernandez. I am currently 18 years old and soon to be attending USC for a major in Film and Television Production. I am confident that MAPS made the latter possible, and can make such achievements possible for others my age.

MAPS 4 College initially appealed to me because of the free ACT prep it offered. Such open assistance for such an important test seemed insane to me, and I immediately sought a membership application.

As I stayed in the program, I found that it offered more than it advertised. My peers and I began setting aside our ACT prep books and discussing various topics of interest. Politics, religion, society, and even the qualities of a lasting existence were brought up in civilized, round-table discussions. I’d often heard from relatives that such conversations existed on higher-education campuses, but never did I think I’d find them so close to home.

I soon began to love the intelligence and insight my fellow MAPS peers offered me. Under the discussion direction of Sarai Koo, we explored and mobilized ourselves into making positive change in our community. We saw the inequities society shackled us with due to our geographic location and upbringing, and decided to organize several college fairs and information sessions in the area to generate interest in higher education.

I also found in MAPS the social and life skills needed to pursue my educational and career goals. Before MAPS, I was timid: Rarely opening up about myself and often using harsh cynicism to cover up my insecurities. After MAPS gave me a chance to open up to other people–to understand, empathize, and even become companions with my fellow man–I found in myself a newfound desire to do good upon others. I knew that I loved entertainment, and wanted to touch people’s lives through laughter and thought. After learning to love others for who they were, I knew that it was my duty to go out and brighten the doldrums of their daily lives with stories and joy and humor. I became president and Director of the Sierra Vista Drama Club to achieve this goal, and directed a total of 6 plays in my time, each requiring me to associate with a large amount of people in new and interesting ways. I can personally say that I delighted the lives of several hundreds of audience members in my time and I have MAPS to thank for this.

MAPS is more than just a college or ACT prep course: It’s a class in life itself. The skills and individuals I met will stay with me always. Always.

MAPS taught me more than how to be a good studier or test-taker: It taught me how to be a proper, motivated, and curious human being.

 Testimonial May 11, 2014


As I see it, we’re all lost.

Whether it’s in terms of our future, our fate, our purpose, or our place in the world, there’re always nagging questions in the back of our minds. Ones we can’t answer. Ones we can’t ignore.

The How’s, the Why’s, the Who’s, the When’s, the What’s. They hound us like flies, circling and infecting us. And they only get louder as we get older.

We turn every which way to find answers. Like rats in a maze. Sometimes we’re led to chapels and churches and synagogues. Others, we’re led to needles and pills and blunts.

All they offer are the quick solutions; ones that get us through the night until the morning. The morning. The morning so we can question again. So we can run like rats in a maze. So we can find our way back to the chapels and the churches and the synagogues and the. . .

I was tired of it.

To relieve my questions, I turned towards the MAPS program for guidance. A program that had given me so much. A program that seemed to have an answer for everything.

And it did this time, too.


More than a religious doctrine or shallow self-help code, SPICES offers a set of life philosophies worth living by.

The answers to those big questions.

Who am I? The person I create for myself.

How should I treat people? Equally, regardless of whom they are. We’re nearly identical genetically, anyways. All past wrong-doings are in the past, and the past is where our past lives live, not our present selves.

Why am I here? To improve the quality of the human race.

SPICES is more than just another cheap slogan: It houses the secrets to living a quality life.

After all, don’t we all need a map?

Testimonial June 4, 2019

Adrian Hernandez turned 23 years old on June 4, 2019 (about 7 years after the first SPICES program).

I received SPICES during the round of “Beta Testing” with a cohort of high school students in a program called “MAPS 4 College.” It was different than I ever expected.

Our MAPS sessions, hosted with a pilot cohort of around 20 high school students, existed to give us the resources we needed to learn components of the SAT and ACT tests, and several practice sessions where we learned from each other through lectures and practice problems.

After our test prep sessions were over around 2013, MAPS began to evolve into a collection of Socratic Seminars analyzing our perspectives, ambitions, and overall life goals. This, without me knowing it, was my first taste of the SPICES platform.

Topics I remember being discussed in these sessions included:

— What a happy and fulfilling life is, and how we could start to prepare ourselves for living one

— What our life ambitions were, and how we could start to establish paths to achieve them

— Effective leadership tactics – our internal and external motivations for achieving our ambitions

— Many of the racial, social, and economic hardships that impeded upward mobility in our Latinx community, as well as the differences and similarities between the cultures we all came from.

— Ways we could use our ambitions to impact other people positively

At first, I was confused as to why a college prep course would dedicate time to talking about subjects which had nothing to do with the ACT or SAT. Now I see what Sarai was doing: She was setting us up to ask what life we wanted to pave for ourselves once we got to college, and beyond.

I feel the biggest mistake people (especially my age) make is charging down career or life paths without careful consideration of their personal ambitions, happiness, and legacies. They hear talk of good money or stability, and barrel down pathways hoping they’ll like the lives they end up with. This, I feel, is why so many people look at themselves when they’re 30 and find themselves unhappy. They’ve climbed to the top of a mountain they never wanted to stand on.

SPICES, on the other hand, is a set of guidelines that moves away from this classic trap. The platform begins with an analysis of the heart and soul of your personal ambition, and ends with giving you the strategies you need to maximize your ability to achieve what you strive for.

How do I know that it works?

I’m one of its early benefiters.

When I was six, I identified my personal ambition to be a filmmaker. I knew that the purpose of my life was to entertain and challenge people through cinematic art.

I had several people, teachers and parents, tell me that becoming a filmmaker would lead to stress and financial difficulty. I was told to avoid the route completely and go into engineering or computer science. At 14, I was almost considering giving up on my ambition and agreeing with many of these adults around me who told me to give up. Why would they lie, after all?

Then I encountered SPICES.

Through SPICES, I gained the courage to follow an atypical life path, and through the teachings of the program, was able to harness my personal strengths to make a film career happen for myself. I have no formal ties to the film industry. My Dad is a dishwasher, my mother is a homemaker.

After helping start a drama class in my high school’s lackluster educational curriculum, I was accepted to attend school for Film and TV Production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on full scholarship. It’s the most expensive and selective film school in the country.

I went through 4 years of intense production curriculum, entrusting that my love of impacting people through art and adoration of the film medium would pull through, and it has!

Since graduating from USC’s Film School in 2018, I have worked for Fox Sports West, Los Angeles Metro, The National Association for Latinx Independent Producers, Fine Brother Entertainment, and countless other independent ventures. I’ve sound designed several shorts and a feature film, and acted as cinematographer on three independent feature films and several shorts and music videos.

My personal directorial work, largely in documentary, has been shown in festivals around the country, and I’m privileged to say that I am now making a living doing what I love in a career field I want to be in.

And I’m just getting started. I live to entertain and provoke thought in people through my art.

SPICES helped me realize that. SPICES helped make that into a reality. Sarai’s insights will get you far. Trust me.”



The Sky’s The Limit

Written by: Isaiah Lee

Date: July 2, 2015

    What is MAPS 4 College? As an approaching senior in high school there are a countless number of questions that need to be answered. How do I fill out my application? What schools do I apply to? What do I write for my college essay? With the plethora of questions that arise, I can only wonder what is in store for me in the near future.

    Coming from a very fortunate household, I don’t have much to worry about. College is just around the corner and it seems to be a clear straight road ahead. Yet for many, especially within Los Angeles, college isn’t even an option and even if it was it could mean an entire lifetime of paying off student loans. To be honest I never thought MAPS 4 College would apply to me. My first impressions were that this is just like any other non- profit that provides a means for lower income families to reach a higher education. How incredibly wrong I was. After studying and reading through the website, I came to this realization that MAPS 4 College applies to so much more. In essence, yes, MAPS is an “educational pipeline” but beyond that it serves to provide all the necessary attributes needed to succeed in life. One of the main components that really captivated my attention were the messages written under youth voices. In almost every post I read about how MAPS and the people had changed their lives for the better and provided them with something that could never be taken away. Each message in itself was very genuine and special and gave me a whole new perspective on this organization. “MAPS was the place where I smiled, laughed, cried, and blossomed. It became my safe haven.” After reading those stories I could not help but feel jealous that I was not able to participate with MAPS.

    MAPS 4 College is much more than what I originally perceived. This program encompasses everything, from the ACT test to living a holistic and content life. Although I am writing from an external perspective, I believe this organization truly has potential. And as a MAPS graduate similarly said “MAPS can change the world, I hope people don’t take it lightly…because it can.”

Are You Right For Me?

Many believe that participating in mentoring programs will automatically introduce them to someone who can help advance them in life. Thinking this way is valid, however, more goes into choosing a mentor than just the benefits they offer. If you are only looking to connect with a person who can help advance your career than I suggest go to a networking event. If you want someone to help guide you, listen to your issues, and influence decisions, than you are on the right path to finding a mentor.

First, I must acknowledge having multiple mentors is not harmful. Most think only one mentor is necessary while others would rather have multiple mentors to talk about varying issues. Personally, I grew up with multiple mentors who had different views. The different views helped me to see an issue from different perspectives. I made sure I was well informed by all my mentors before making a potential life changing decision. Obviously, deciding the adequate number of mentors is a personal decision and can only be made through self-reflection.

Mentoring programs are great at introducing members to mentors who have signed up to give back to the community. If one goes to introductory events through these programs, knowing what to look for is important. Even if you choose a mentor outside of these programs it is of great importance to know what qualities/traits you admire. Making sure your values and those of your mentors align is the only way the partnership will be effective. Again, know what qualities/traits you value will only be learned through self-reflection.

Having a mentor is a necessity. A mentor is someone who can help you fight through the tough moments in life. Or, a mentor is someone to give advice on any issue one will be faced with. Mentoring programs are a great source to introduce mentors/mentorees; they should not be used to find an individual to help in career/college advancement. Once the qualities/traits admired have been defined, the processes to find a mentor will be easier and more effective.

The Only Way is to Write

Writing is the most important tool many people do not posses in their figurative tool shed. I have wrote about college and career readiness before, what I did not address is properly constructing a sentence is the most important skill one could have. In every field of study and line of work writing will be involved; be it an intense research project or sending an email to a coworker or boss. If one does not know how to accurately express them through use of written word, than college and career readiness will elude them.

People are not just born being a great writer—granted, writing comes easier to some than others—people have work daily to become an effective writer. Writing should be considered how one would consider a sport. To become a good basketball player practice is required at least four times a week. Writing should also be practiced, if not everyday, at least write three times a week. I have found it helpful to keep a journal that details my day.

Another great way to improve writing skills is by reading. I understand in high school that there is tons of homework and extra curricular activities that take priority, however, reading a chapter a day of a book that interests you is not impossible. Seeing new words and writing styles will only improve one’s own writing abilities.

Creating a strong, effective email is not an easy task. It is a skill that needs to be mastered to find success in the workforce. Emails should not show off your grandiose knowledge of vocabulary or your limited knowledge of when to use the correct punctuation. Emails should be short, sweet, and get the point clearly across. If one can write a strong email they will be looked at more highly than the rest of the filed.

The most important tool for college and career readiness is writing. Having the ability to write clearly and concisely is a huge advantage. Practicing at least three times a week and reading at least for ten minutes a day is the only way to sharpen ones skills.

Find the Right Fit

To find a college is a not a hard decision once you have discovered who you are as a person and what you want to achieve. I am not talking about knowing the exact field of study to go into, however, knowing if a college can help take you to where you want to go is important. Each school has somewhat of a reputation, and usually those reputations are correct.

Treat a college like you would treat choosing which friends to hang out with. If a person does not share your same views or value what you value, then there would be no reason to be friends with this person—no common grounds. It is the same as a college, if a schools views do no align with your school then don’t go there. There will be no success by subjugating oneself to a school that does not support your values and vice versa.

Finding the right fit takes hours and hours of research. Visiting every college that you apply for should be a priority. Books and the Internet can only give factual information about a school. When choosing a college you want to go beyond the facts. Seeing for yourself how students interact with each other on campus, how classes are conducted, and the accessibility to professors is important—and this only comes from campus tours.

A schools reputation is important to take into account, its more important for you to decide if that reputation is correct. A school the represents your views and offers exactly what you are looking for is the right choice. Success will only happen if you feel comfortable with the school of your choice. The right fit means the student body fits your personality, are the academics rigorous or relaxed (do you want to be challenged academically), and the political views of the school align with yours.

The Other Option

Yesterday I wrote about why go to college? The answer was simple: go to be challenged, grow as a person, and learn new perspectives about the world. These are intangibles everyone should strive for. However, I know that going to college is not for everyone. Many people go to school, drop out and have wasted money they could have used on finding a career that gives them joy. The problem is not many alternatives to a four-year college are advertised at high schools. Some schools still offer counseling for alternative paths along with trade classes (woodshop, auto shop, metal shop, etc.). Unfortunately, with budget cuts to high schools trade programs have slowly been wiped away as classes to take. Therefore, more students are left with no way of knowing if this is something that they will enjoy.

Even though trade classes in high schools are disappearing, there are still many trade school colleges open that want students. Trade schools are a viable option for recent high school graduates who do not go on to college. A great benefit of these schools on not only you have been set up with a career, but they help to position their graduates in the respective fields.

Society tends to look down on trade schools and feel like they are for those that are not smart enough to go to school. That is an absurd assumption. Great careers can be had from going to trade schools. In high school, discover which trade interests you and where you can go with. There are different test one can take to see which field they will thrive in. What should not happen is to let graduation come and go and not have taken active steps to ensure a solid foundation for the future.


Why go to College?

In high school the only option presented to students after graduation is college. Teachers, parents, and society tell students that college is necessary to be successful—degrees are needed to obtain a job once you are twenty-two. However, it goes unrealized that college is not for every student; there are other options other than going to a four-year institution. This blog is not going to address the other options, that will be save for tomorrows blog, the question: “Why go to college?” is what will be answered.

College is a place for expanding knowledge and understanding different cultures and concepts that were not available in high school. College is for the passionate who want to develop their brain into a weapon of knowledge, to one day benefit the community around them. One should go to college because they want to be challenged to think in new perspectives and understand how different schools of learning are intertwined. A student should not go to college because they are told you. There will only be success in college is there is a burning desire in the student to devout themselves to hours of reading, writing, attending class, and discussing issues that would not be presented at home.

Why go to college? If you are truly devoted to paying a hefty price (there are ways to make school affordable) for an unbelievable, academic challenge, then go to college. One does not have to know right away what their major will be, or who their lifelong friends will be, or even an idea of a career. One just needs to posses the burning want for the ability to view perspectives from different eyes.

The Major Dilemma

I wrote a post earlier on how to choose a major. The contents of the post were four tips one should do to pick the major that fits them. What was not mentioned is switching majors if you absolutely despise your field of study. Do not fret about switching your major; people do it all the time. I remember my original major was biology and after two more switches I ended college with a degree in English.

To come to the decision to switch a major is stressful, being uneasy about this being the right choice. It took me awhile to truly understand my passion and what I was good at. What I did do was take classes in every field of study after I decided biology was not for me. Besides fulfilling major requirements, undergraduate students have to fulfill general education requirements. I spoke to my advisor at the time and asked which classes would fulfill what and made sure that they were all in a different major department (some requirements can be in the same department).

I found that the course I took in the English department interested me the most because I spent more time studying and preparing for the class. This is the key to knowing if you truly feel passionate for a subject. I would spend hours reading about literary theories and spend minutes reading through my political science or psychology textbook.

Now, I was not thrilled with every class I took in the English department; I don’t know anyone who loved every class in their department. Therefore, before you switch your major try taking one or two more classes before fully committing the switch. Usually, it is the level one hundred courses people find to be disinteresting because they cover just the basics. Deeper into the majors the course become more definite in one area of the field of ones choosing.


You know how to choose a major, you have taken a couple classes but you know it will be miserable to continue. Then switch. There is no need to feel guilty or like you have given up. Like I said, many people switch majors.


The First Semester

The first semester of college is one of the most exciting, nerve wracking, eye-opening experiences everyone goes through. Incredible amounts of freedom is given to you that sometimes coping with the massive amounts of free time can be stressful. How do you find success in your first semester? This is a question that can be answered many ways, because every individual functions differently. However, what every individual needs to know is not to waste time. I found in the first semester so much idle time was had that freshman lost track of the time and forgot that they had to do homework, study, go to practice/club meetings. The way to success is to create a schedule that best suits you. In high school, class was everyday starting in the morning then ending in the afternoon. After school was let out students would go to sports practice, club meetings, or go home and do homework—because that was how their schedule worked. In college, there is a class schedule, but usually classes are held three or two times a week and an individual can have up to a five-hour break in between classes. What will help you properly utilize the free time is to create a schedule of when you have class, good time to study, what time your respective organizations meet, and finally some free time so you can relax.

Become Comfortable in Your Skin

MAPS has helped many students become comfortable with breaking down the barriers they have set up to accept being average or failing. Our youth development programs have given students the confidence they need in order to succeed. We found our youth development program works by using mentor or mentors (people are allowed more than one mentor) to help our students succeed. Sometimes just being a set of ears for our youth is all they need to be confident. One of our students, Vanessa Lam, had glowing comments about the benefits of MAPS and Sarai.

Before MAPS, Vanessa never had any real connections with other students, nor did she feel like she could express her emptiness:

“At the beginning of high school, I usually spent lunch and brunch by myself because I was so different from my classmates. So, I  just kept to myself and masked my true feelings, filling the void of empty relationships with busy work.  I avoided forming friendships and intimate relationships with others because it did not work out the first time.”

Without MAPS who knows where Vanessa would have been. Fortunately for her, she found MAPS, Sarai, and our youth development program. She told me MAPS had established an environment where she could thrive and freely express her dreams of attending college. Vanessa had this to say about Sarai and her system, “With her advice and support, I began to take leadership over my own life rather than letting society; because of her, I decided to challenge myself and attend Seattle University (the most awesome university ever).  She provided small yet impactful opportunities for me to gain self-confidence and reach my potential. She had created MAPS4College.”

Previous stories have been written about our familial environment at MAPS and how we believe that is what the youth need to feel comfortable. We were right; “It became my safe haven, where I vulnerably expressed my frustration about society, deepest feelings about my past, and my journey to independence. I became more involved with my city, courageously trying new things with my MAPS community.  I gained more than friends in MAPS; I gained another family.”  Vanessa has said it all. Our youth development program creates a safe space for students to learn how to be confident, courageous, and safe.