CCH awards 12 college scholarships to homeless youth

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) has awarded renewable $2,000 college scholarships to four young women who achieved academically while coping with homelessness.

Another eight students received $2,000 renewal awards as they continue their studies, two of them in post-graduate programs.

From left to right: Brandon Dunlap (2010 graduate); 2012 winners Jayme Robinson, Edwina Ward, Jennifer Salgado-Benz and Gilma Escobar; 2010 winners Daihana Estrada and Sean Hopkins; 2011 winner Edwin Casas. (Photo by Jeff Foy)

“The young people receiving these scholarships are really something special. They’ve gone through struggles that no youth should have to go through, yet they got good grades, were leaders at school, and realized their dream of getting into college,” Executive Director Ed Shurna told 50 people attending a June 28 awards event at Loyola University Law School. 

CCH also honored two long-time donors, Dr. Elizabeth Wiley and Dr. Stephen Nightingale. The Chicago couple’s continuing gifts to the scholarship program allowed CCH to increase the scholarships from a freshman-year award to a renewable scholarship as students progress through college.

In nine years, CCH scholarships have helped 33 new graduates of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Seventeen recipients (51%) have graduated or are still pursuing bachelor’s degrees, according to program coordinator Barbara Chasnoff.

The program was started by the CCH Law Project, which focuses its work on helping homeless students and unaccompanied youth in Chicago and the suburbs.

This year’s accomplished winners were chosen from among 47 applicants:

Jennifer Salgado-Benz (Phoenix Military Academy)
Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, Ill.
Jennifer’s experience with homelessness and uncertain financial circumstances has forged an incredibly strong person. “Enduring these hardships, I have become optimistic and motivated,” Jennifer said. “My belief is that hard work and determination can create a happy life.” Jennifer has repeatedly evidenced this attitude by traveling an hour each way to school, getting up at 4:30 a.m. so that she could participate for four years in the before-school Drill Team and Color Guard. She achieved a cumulative 4.3 GPA, graduating 4th in her class of 94 students. Jennifer is the first in her family to finish high school and go to college.

Gilma Escobar (Prosser Career Academy)
Concordia University, River Forest, Ill.
Gilma became homeless at age 14, after her mother fell seriously ill. With their mom in a nursing home, Gilma’s older brother and sister stepped up to support their three younger siblings. Gilma says that it took more than a year to “start looking at the situation differently, instead of staying depressed.” At Prosser, Gilma twice was chosen to be a “Student Ambassador” to England. She knew she wanted to become a teacher after she organized a free summer camp at Prosser for 20 grade-schoolers. Gilma pushed herself academically, taking several Advanced Placement (AP) courses. With a senior year GPA of 4.15, Gilma graduated in the top 20% of her class.

Jayme Robinson (Carl Schurz High School)
University of Illinois at Chicago
When Jayme began her senior year of high school, her mother learned she was gay and she had to move out. In the face of this, Jayme showed an incredible maturity. She maintained a 3.9 GPA while taking AP courses, graduating in the top 5% of her class at Carl Schurz. Her counselor wrote that Jayme “stayed late into the evening several days a week” so she could study in the school computer lab. Jayme also showed her leadership ability by helping found the Schurz College Ambassadors, an organization dedicated to creating a college-going culture within the school.

Edwina Ward (Olive-Harvey Middle College)
Olive-Harvey City College
Edwina’s mother died five months ago. Edwina cares for her infant son and 14-year-old sister, now living together doubled-up with a friend’s mother. Facing this situation made Edwina more committed to her education, and she will be the first in her family to go to college. Her counselor says, “Despite all of the sadness 2012 has brought her, she has remained an honor roll student while taking some college courses and maintained a 3.8 in her high school classes.” Edwina plans to study social work.

Six prior CCH winners also received $2,000 renewal awards for their continuing studies at Knox College, John A. Logan Community College, Moraine Valley Community College, Philander Smith College in Arkansas, UIC, and the University of Illinois-Springfield. Two others will receive $1,000 assistance for their graduate degree studies, including Bridget Starling, a 2012 magna cum laude graduate of Benedict College in South Carolina.

Affiliated with Dollars for Scholars, the scholarships are funded by private donors, and all donated funds are given to students. Supporters include the Chicago Teachers Union, Sisters of Charity BVM and the Student Alliance for Homeless Youth. The Osa Foundation, directed by Robin Lavin, supports the program and funds a laptop for every student who maintains a 3.0 GPA.

In 2010 and 2011, CCH honored two other donors who generously assist the program: Chicago educator Rhonda Purwin, and Patricia Rivera, retired director of the CPS homeless education program. Ms. Rivera helped CCH start the scholarships in 2004.