Announcing our 2018 college scholarship winners

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and its Law Project will award renewable $2,500 college scholarships to five students from Chicago and Aurora who succeeded in high school while coping with homelessness. Thanks to private donors and dedicated grants, CCH has awarded $325,000 to 59 students in the last 14 years.

Pierrerasha Goodwin, Bethany Oceguera, Charity Smith, Angelo Villazana, and Kaleyah Wesley will be honored on Thursday, June 28 at an event hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law. A 5:30 p.m. reception will be followed by an hour-long awards event in the 10th floor ceremonial courtroom.

“We are inspired by these students,” said Law Project Director Patricia Nix-Hodes. “Despite unstable housing and other barriers, these teens demonstrate a commitment to their education. We look forward to seeing what they accomplish in college and beyond.”

In addition, the scholarship program will honor its four new college graduates:

  • Mahalia Crawford studied sociology at Mississippi’s Tougaloo College. She is a Kelly High School grad.
  • Kristen Lang majored in accounting at Benedict College in South Carolina. She is a Percy Julian High School grad.
  • Jessica Lee studied chemical engineering at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She graduated from Lincoln Park High School.
  • Cassandra Murff majored in English at DePaul University. She is a Harper High School graduate.

To date, 18 scholarship recipients have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 42% of the students eligible to do so. This compares well per a national study that showed just 9% of students from the lowest income bracket ($34,160 or lower) had earned a bachelor’s by age 24 (University of Pennsylvania and Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, 2015). Three other CCH scholarship students (7%) earned associate or nursing degrees.

Supporters of the scholarship program, the family, friends and teachers of our students, and program graduates are invited to attend the public, free-of-charge event.

Also honored will be 14 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors, earlier scholarship winners who will receive renewal awards of $2,500. They attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Blackburn and Columbia colleges, DePaul, Howard, Northern Illinois, and North Park universities, and the University of Illinois campuses in Chicago and Champaign.

The Law Project launched the program to encourage and showcase homeless youth with whom it works. In in 2017, 91% of its casework was on behalf of homeless students or youth. CCH scholarships help graduating seniors who have experienced homelessness, some for most of their lives. Long focused on helping Chicago Public Schools students, suburban students have been eligible since 2015.

The 2018 winners are:

Pierrerasha Goodwin, Chicago – Tougaloo College: Living in shelters for two years, starting at the age of 12, “made me understand that I was going to school to better my life and better my family,” says Pierrerasha. While at Jones College Prep she was active on the dance team, the school magazine, and After School Matters, earned a 3.4 GPA, and held internships at law firms. Pierrerasha plans to earn bachelor’s and law degrees in six years through a special program at her Mississippi college. 

Bethany Oceguera, Aurora – Marquette University: Taking AP Environmental Science at Oswego East, Bethany realized the college major she wants to pursue when she joins an older sister at Marquette in Milwaukee. A junior when her family lost their long-time home, Bethany said her sister encouraged her to keep up her studies “because education is your only way out. That really motivated me.” Bethany completed eight Advanced Placement classes, was active in Student Council, Mathletes, and the badminton team, and has a 4.1 GPA. Bethany said her family is greatly helped by doubling-up in the home of a retired educator they met through church.

Charity Smith, Chicago – University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: “People told me when I grow up, I’ll find something I really enjoy, but the time is here and my mind remains the same. I want to be a teacher. I choose math out of all subjects because that class challenges me the most,” Charity writes. She earned a 3.6 GPA at Westinghouse College Prep, where she was a cheerleader, on the step team, and active in After School Matters. She has also worked two years as a Jewel cashier, to help cover her expenses while living with an older brother following the death of her mother.

Angelo Villazana, Chicago – Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago: Angelo’s large family was homeless most of his life, causing him to struggle in school – he says it took him years to learn to read because he missed all or most of the 1st and 4th grades. But since junior year he’s earned honor roll grades, including straight A’s last semester at Lake View High School. Captain of the track and field team, a wrestler, and a cross-country runner, Angelo now lives with his coach’s family. He sought out Arrupe because its mission is to help students prepare for a four-year degree. With five older siblings, Angelo will be the first to graduate from high school. He also credits Mercy Home for helping him through a scholarship that will cover his room and board while enrolled in Arrupe’s two-year program.

Kaleyah Wesley, Chicago – Harold Washington City College: Kaleyah’s family became homeless when she was 12. They lived for two years in New Life’s Rogers Park family shelter. While their mother worked for a school bus service, Kaleyah escorted her three younger siblings to and from their South Side school. With her mom, Marilyn Escoe, Kaleyah became active at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, joining its Speakers Bureau and the Education Committee. Kaleyah was honored in 2016 when the Marguerite Casey Foundation named her one of 15 Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty. A graduate of Pathways Avondale campus, Kaleyah has been involved in debate club and Girls in the Game. She recently interned at Curt’s Café in Evanston, where her supervisor described her as “the shining star of Curt’s mission.” She plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in business or social work.

Thanks to a generous incentive created by the Osa Foundation, when our students earn a cumulative grade point average of “B” or better in college, they receive a laptop. Nineteen students have earned this honor to date. The scholarship is funded by grants from the Osa Foundation, the Sisters of Charity, BVM, Susan W. Pearson Memorial Fund, and Student Alliance for Homeless Youth. Private donors also designate tax-deductible gifts, small and large, that are restricted to scholarship awards.

Serving on the 8-member Scholarship Selection Committee are Daihana Estrada, a 2010 scholarship winner and UIC grad; retired CCH Executive Director Ed Shurna; and Patricia Rivera, founding donor of the scholarship and retired director of the CPS homeless education program, now directing shelter-based tutoring for Chicago HOPES. Also, on the committee are CCH’s intake coordinator, Roberto Martinez; social worker Monica Mahan; and Claire Sloss, Christy Savellano, and Anne Bowhay of the development/media staff.

– Anne Bowhay, Media & Claire Sloss, Photos