The Program: History


The story of the Aaron Price Fellows Program is the story of how something great grew out of something tragic.

In 1989, the Price Family lost their beloved fifteen year old son, grandson and brother, Aaron, to a year-long battle with cancer. After Aaron’s death, his grandfather, Sol Price, decided to create a living legacy of Aaron’s life through a youth program that would pass on Aaron’s interests and values to future high school students.

Sol Price gathered a group of trusted education experts and advisors to help develop the new program. The initial committee included:

Sol & Helen Price
Robert & Allison Price
Admiral Ray Peet
Ted Hurwitz, Price Charities
Jim Cahill, Price Charities
Kay Wagner, San Diego Unified School District
Joe Watson, University of California, San Diego
Janis Gabay, Serra High School

The group met during the summer of 1990 to discuss ideas for the new program, and subsequently asked Cathy Hopper, a former Assistant Superintendent with the San Diego Unified School District, to help develop a formal program proposal.

Cathy Hopper met with scholarship counselors, reviewed scholarship announcements, and then brainstormed with her colleague Ron Ottinger in the Planning, Research and Evaluation Division of the San Diego Unified School District. Together, they determined that “No program currently exists to identify youth early in their high school years, from all ethnic backgrounds, who have leadership potential in many different fields and nurture that potential through adolescence so that they might blossom into adulthood. If the idea of community service and the rewards inherent to the giver are experienced early by these young scholars and leaders, there will be a far greater chance that many will be “movers and givers” in college and for life.”

From this platform, Cathy Hopper and Ron Ottinger developed a formal proposal for the Aaron Price Fellows and Scholars Program. The Aaron Price Fellows Program would select a group of students at the end of their 9th grade year to participate in a three year program that would provide activities and experiences in community participation designed to develop leadership and cooperative skills.

By the spring of 1991, Sol Price and the advisory committee refined the proposal and hired San Diego School Board Member Susan Davis to serve as the first Executive Director of the Aaron Price Fellows Program.

Susan Davis (far right) with the first class of Aaron Price Fellows, the Class of 1994.

Susan Davis worked closely with Sol Price, Ted Hurwitz and local principals to recruit Aaron Price Fellows from every school with a 9th grade class in the San Diego Unified School District. The initial class of 54 students was nominated by their schools, and accepted into the program in June of 1991.

In the spring of 1994, Susan Davis left the Aaron Price Fellows Program to run for the California State Assembly. She was elected to office and served in Sacramento for six years before running and winning a U.S. Congressional campaign in 2000. Today, Susan Davis represents California’s 53rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representative, and continues to organize a special program on Capitol Hill for the Aaron Price Fellows.

Jacquelyn Sherman-Rustin was hired as the Aaron Price Fellows Program’s second Executive Director.

She had previously worked at the County of San Diego and the City of San Diego with County Supervisor and then San Diego Mayor Susan Golding.  Shortly after becoming Executive Director, Jacquelyn Sherman-Rustin hired Assistant Director Theresa Enriquez Frazier to help her manage the three classes of Fellows.  Theresa Enriquez Frazier also previously worked for Mayor Susan Golding and was passionate about mentoring young people. As a team, they carried forth the Price Family’s vision for the program for 20 years.

In 2016, leadership for the program came full circle with the hiring of Annie Lyles, MSW and alumna from the first class of Aaron Price Fellows, as the new Executive Director.

Annie Lyles spent the first twenty years of her career creating and leading youth development programs. In this capacity, she consulted for federal agencies, private foundations and local municipalities seeking to improve the lives of adolescents and their families. Today she is honored to use her extensive experience to lead the program for the next generation of Aaron Price Fellows.

While the core mission and goals remain the same, the program continues to evolve in response to lessons learned. Beginning with the Class of 2001, the number of participating schools was changed from 16 to 4 to increase the sense of community among Fellows on their school campuses. A fifth and sixth school added in 2016 and 2019 respectively. In addition, the program curriculum is evaluated and updated regularly to ensure Fellows visit the most important community institutions and learn about relevant issues and careers.

Family oversight of the program has transitioned from Sol Price to his son and daughter-in-law, Robert and Allison Price.  Their adult children, Rebecca Price Brewer, Sarah Price-Keating and David Price, also participate in Fellow selection and program planning.

Allison, Sarah, David, Rebecca and Robert Price

To learn more about the history of the Aaron Price Fellows Program or the life of Sol Price, you can order the following books:

The Aaron Price Fellows Story

Price, Robert E., and Lawrence, Karen. San Diego, 2012 Print 

Sol Price Retail Revolutionary and Social Innovator

Price, Robert E. San Diego: San Diego History Center, 2012 Print