BAGSF: How This Bay Area Nonprofit is Helping Young People Attend College

August 16, 2018

Crystal Chan is an 18-year-old writer and activist who is passionate about advocating for social equity. She is the Founder and Executive Director of SPACE 4 US, a community organization that democratizes professional opportunities by connecting underserved students with career exploration resources. Crystal is also an avid writer who strives to use storytelling as a vehicle for social change. She writes for her school newspaper and represents District 7 on the San Francisco Youth Commission, a body of 17 young people that advises the San Francisco Mayor and Board of Supervisors on policies impacting San Francisco’s youth. In her free time, she loves writing, reading, knitting, and hiking!

When Catalino Tapia immigrated to the United States at 20 years old, he had $6 in his pocket and a sixth-grade education from Mexico. Catalino worked hard to earn money and took on many different jobs, including baking for 45 cents an hour, before becoming a gardener, a career that would inspire him to start Bay Area Gardener’s Scholarship Foundation (BAGSF).

Founded in 2006, BAGSF is a nonprofit organization that “provides scholarships to students facing significant financial barriers” within San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. Catalino first had the idea to start BAGSF in 2002, as he wanted to help low-income students attend college or university, with a particular focus on students whose parents were gardeners.

“The foundation is a resource for low-income students to continue their education and better their lives and their family’s (lives) as well,” Catalino said. “Because I always tell the kids, no matter what, the future belongs to you guys.”

Along with the support of his son, his son’s friends, and clients from his gardening business, Catalino gave out the foundation’s first five scholarships in 2006, an emotional moment he considers a highlight of the organization’s work. To date, BAGSF has awarded nearly 270 scholarships, making a profound impact on the lives of hundreds of students within the Bay Area.

One such student is Eduardo Zamora, a 2017 and 2018 BAGSF scholarship recipient. Eduardo, a student at San Francisco State University double majoring in Liberal Arts and Latino studies, found out about the scholarship through a local TV show and decided to apply because of its flexible requirements.

“It was important for me because I didn’t know how to get scholarships,” Eduardo said. “So their scholarship kind of helped me, because I didn’t qualify for most scholarships (since) it was mostly all STEM-related, and I wasn’t in a major that was going into STEM.”

Eduardo added that the scholarship helped pay for his tuition and books for school, allowing him to focus on his academics and “get mostly A’s.”

Students like Eduardo are exactly why Catalino continues running BAGSF.

“When I see the faces on these kids when they receive their checks, they make me cry,” Catalino shared. “All of them, I look at them as part of my family now; I had only two sons, but now I have 266.”

(Isabel Parrillas and her family/Photo Courtesy of BAGSF)

Catalino’s acts of kindness go beyond his foundation’s work. When his neighbor Isabel Parrillas first moved from France to California five years ago, Catalino welcomed Isabel to the neighborhood with presents and a “beautiful plant.” Through Catalino, Isabel learned about BAGSF and was eager to get involved. Now, as an active supporter of BAGSF, Isabel, the founder and CEO of SkaleUp, participates in the scholarship selection process and provides financial support for the foundation.

Isabel strongly believes in the mission of BAGSF, describing it as “the beautiful act of creating change, kindness, and love.” She also added that BAGSF inspires students to give back to their communities.

“The recipients appreciate and they realize that they matter and someone believes in them,” Isabel said. “These people naturally want to give back, and they are either part of this foundation or they volunteer (to) help other people.”

BAGSF currently offers 30 scholarships every year, but Catalino hopes to secure new sponsorships in the future to expand his foundation’s work and offer up to 50 scholarships annually. Even though he never had a chance to attend college, Catalino understands the importance of education and how it can transform lives.

“Education is the key to open so many doors in the world,” Catalino explained. “It can better your life and not only yours, but your family’s (as well). Your life will change because of the education.”

Having recently celebrated its 12th anniversary, BAGSF will continue to uphold its mission of inspiring students to pursue their dreams and give back to their communities.

“I love my foundation, and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to serve my community,” Catalino said. “We have already been here for 12 years, and I hope that we can continue going for many years to come because I really enjoy helping others.”

To learn more about BAGSF, apply for a scholarship, or donate to support the foundation, visit