As the last semester of high school for Central Coast seniors winds down, many are committing to colleges and universities, much like 20 student residents of People’s Self-Help Housing communities did in Guadalupe Thursday evening.

PSHH hosted the second annual College Signing Day, modeled after the national initiative launched by Michelle Obama, with the goal to energize students and get them excited about higher education. Another goal is to place as much emphasis on academic college commitment as there is for athletes who participate in college signing events.

“Deciding where you’re going to college is exciting,” said John Fowler, CEO and president of PSHH. “This event showcases our graduating seniors who are taking charge of their future and committing to higher education.”

The students are part of PSHH’s College Club, which seeks to turn young student residents of their affordable living communities into leaders. The College Club is an expansion of the organization’s Youth Education and Enhancement Program (YEEP), which provides services to students in the form of on-site tutoring, support for parents and individualized learning plans.

The students who committed to colleges Thursday night represented PSHH communities around the Central Coast ranging from Carpinteria to Morro Bay.

“Many parents living in our housing communities didn’t have the same opportunities as their children to attend college or a university,” said Alejandra Mahoney, PSHH’s YEEP manager. “PSHH is thrilled to provide programs, like the College Club, to help families/youth achieve their goals and dreams.”

Eight of the students also received $2,000 scholarships as part of the event, which were funded through donations, grants and support from PSHH’s property management agent The Duncan Group.

A surprise scholarship was also awarded for the first time. Yeudiel Maldonado, who will attend Hancock College, received the President’s Scholarship and was handpicked by Fowler after he read Maldonado’s scholarship application essay.

“They’re dreaming big,” Fowler said. “We all get emotional about this. This is their dream; their families’ dream. Many families came to America to have this for their families, and now it’s happening.”

Words of encouragement, advice and congratulations were given to the students by various PSHH representatives as they sat in a row before their families and friends as they begin a new chapter in their lives.

As the recognition began, parents and family members stood behind their children to watch them be honored for their hard work, dedication and commitment to higher education, as many are the first in their family to go to college.

Jeronimo Dominguez, the father of college signer Angela Dominguez, has watched three of his children be afforded the opportunity to pursue higher education, something he wasn’t able to do himself.

“”I feel great, and proud of them because they’re going to continue to study,” Dominguez said through a translator. “This is special. (Angela) is the first one we’ve been to an event like this for. I’m very proud. We’re all here together. My daughter brought us together.”

One college signer, Ruben Chamu, a Dos Pueblos High School senior, said it felt good to be surrounded by other Central Coast students his age who are all pursuing different dreams, who come from different communities and different backgrounds, and who were there Thursday evening to celebrate committing to college.

“It’s not every day you get to be rewarded for your hard work in front of your family,” Chamu said.

PSHH is a nonprofit organization that develops affordable housing communities for low-income households, and provide home ownership opportunities for families, seniors, veterans, the disabled and formerly homeless. The organization is the largest affordable housing developer on the Central Coast.

“We are very proud of you,” Fowler told the students.

Krista Chandler covers education in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast News. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @KristasBeat.