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College Depot Opens Downtown, Waits for Students

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July may not seem like the time to start the ever-daunting college application process. But College Depot is waiting for you anyway.

Calling all students, their families, the out-of-work and the starting-over: The Depot serves as a college counselor, computer network, bilingual information hub/hangout and support system for anyone looking to go to college. For free. And it is just about empty -- for the moment, at least.

College Depot has only had an actual home (in the Burton Barr Central Library, at 1221 N. Central Ave.) for about three weeks, but it has been searching for funding for about three years. And, come fall, high schoolers may be filling its angular chairs, office hours and workshops in the after-school rush that fills the library's teen center with around 400 students a day.

It is a project that people believe in. Its director, Judy Reno quit her job as director of the Phoenix office of admissions for the University of Arizona for what she called her "dream job" in October, and Deborah Dillon, the mind behind the project, almost single-handedly raised the money to back it.

Reno says that Dillon, the education programs director for the city of Phoenix, raised $1 million in three years, with donations coming from charitable organizations and government agencies alike -- including a $550,000 chunk from the city's CDBG Program (that is, Community Development Block Grant), which serves (in bureaucrat terms) low-income areas.

In other words, the new center in the downtown library -- artfully designed by the library's original architect, Will Bruder, and staffed by two full-time college counselors, with 25 computers and a workshop series -- is not for private school kids. (Though they won't be turned away.)

"We want to offer our services to people who aren't already getting them," Reno says, "whether it's because their parents didn't go to college or maybe they don't have a computer and Internet at home."

She plans on really kicking things off with a back to school event when schools start up in the fall, and, in the meantime, Reno is filling up the Depot's calendar with workshops on financial aid and online skills, waiting cheerfully for her future students to come. If you want some one-on-one attention, show up this summer. Hours are the same as the library: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 11a.m.-7p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 9a.m.-5p.m.; Sunday, 1-5p.m.

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