CCH awards college scholarships to seven new high school graduates

Updated July 27 – Seven high school graduates who will receive a CCH college scholarship were celebrated at an outdoor celebration with CCH staff, selection committee members, and limited guests on July 26. 

CCH offers $3,500 renewable scholarships to students who succeeded in school while experiencing homelessness. Twenty students will be assisted next school year, including three sophomores, three juniors, and seven seniors. 

The early afternoon event was hosted in Maggie Daley Park downtown. Guests gathered over boxed lunches before each graduate was presented with their award, along with a care package of college supplies and a new laptop, thanks to the generosity of the Osa Foundation. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors in the scholarship program have already received laptops through a previous initiative, also led by Osa President Robin Lavin. 

Gesenia Viviescas and Dontay Lockett, both previous scholarship winners who now serve on the selection committee, shared words of wisdom with the students, drawing on their own experience in college.  

CCH scholars will attend colleges and universities in Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Missouri, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Mississippi and Washington, D.C. 

A $500 stipend for books or other academic materials is also given to program alumni who go on to graduate school. Awards have been given to four students who are working towards master’s degrees in architecture, business, and social work and a PhD in sociology. 

The 2021 scholarship winners include: 

Teoni McClinton has her sights set on becoming a gynecologist, and will study Biology at Clark Atlanta University, an HBCU. “My personal experience shaped me to push myself harder because I know that things won’t be handed to me,” she shared in her interview. 

A self-described dancer, Teoni was active on the dance team and served as captain of the cheerleading team at Mansueto High School.  

After noticing younger children struggling with virtual learning, she decided to create a tutoring program with an aim to empower and mentor. “I aspire to be a guide to other kids like me, to put their fears behind them and jump in to chase the goals they have for themselves,” she said in her application.  

Dante Pulphus has played volleyball for nine years, and will continue to compete at Marian University in Wisconsin. He served as captain of the team at Back of the Yards College Prep, played with Chicago Elite Volleyball Club, and volunteered as a coach of the Jesse Sherwood Elementary team.  

Planning to study Mathematics at Marian, he hopes to teach at the secondary level. “I want to help another student in the same situation that I was in, or a similar situation,” he shared in his interview. “I want to be able to be there for them just like my teacher was there for me.” 

Despite his demanding school and volleyball schedule, he also works part-time at Mariano’s, where he was quickly promoted from cart attendant to cashier, and is now the youngest supervisor at the store.  

Leswin Ramirez led three clubs – Green Ribbon Club, Esports, and Sounds of Sweetness, an a cappella group – at Walter Payton College Prep where he graduated with a 4.4 GPA. He was also active in his school choir and as a mental health advocate.  

“Advocating for mental health has been a very large part of what I’ve been doing during my time in high school,” he told us during his interview. “I fill my time with different opportunities to speak about it, to raise awareness for people who don’t really feel like they have a voice to speak for themselves.” 

Leswin works part-time in a café, where he has been instrumental in organizing and promoting the art of BIPOC artists.  

Looking towards a career in nursing, Leswin will soon begin his studies at Roosevelt University in Chicago. His focus will be on behavioral health.  

Riley Thorpe graduated as the valedictorian of her class at Roger C. Sullivan High School in Rogers Park. When she started at Sullivan four years ago, the school had no student government, so she founded and led a new student council. “Students should have a voice in their education and the choices they make,” she told us in her interview.   

She also served as the student representative on her school’s Local School Council (LSC), co-led a coalition of students to remove the police presence from their school building, and participated in a German exchange program.   

Riley will attend Loyola University Chicago in the Fall, studying Business, with ambitions to continue to Law School. She aspires to one day own a business and practice family law.   

According to one of her references, Riley “puts her heart and soul into everything she does. Her drive and passion are second to none.” 

Three additional winners are pursuing legal asylum from West Africa and Central America. While we are unable to share personal details about these students, we can share that they have demonstrated great courage and determination throughout their journeys and now, as high school graduates preparing to attend college.  

Annual awards are made possible thanks to private donors and dedicated grants to the scholarship program. We are grateful to this year’s institutional partners and individual donors, including Associated Bank; The Osa Founation; Susan W. Pearson Memorial Fund; Sisters of Charity, BVM; Barbara Chasnoff & Thomas Johnson; Jane & Howard Tiffen; and Ana & Edward Williams. 

Scholarships are also supported by the family of Jill L. Meinzer, whose substantial memorial gift in 2020 allowed CCH to increase its award amount to $3,500 beginning last year. 

Thanks to private donors and dedicated grants to the scholarship program, CCH will have awarded more than $588,000 to 82 students through next school year. 

Since the CCH scholarship program began in 2004, 28 students have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 47% of students eligible to do so. Three other scholarship students (6%) earned associate or nursing degrees. A fourth scholarship student is expected to graduate with an associate’s degree in paralegal studies this fall. 

This compares to a national study that shows 11% of students who were both from the lowest income bracket and first-generation college students earned a bachelor’s within six years from a four-year school. 

CCH’s scholarship program assists students throughout college: Our graduates, most of them self-supporting by age 18, average 4.5 years of study before completing their bachelor’s degree. 

Serving on the Scholarship Selection Committee are four former scholarship recipients: Daihana Estrada is a 2010 winner and UIC and Loyola law school graduate. Gesenia Viviescas, a 2013 winner who won a Fulbright award to teach in Taiwan after graduating from Indiana’s DePauw University; she is earning master’s degrees in social work and in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at DePaul. Kristen Lang is a 2014 winner who teaches in the Chicago Public Schools after graduating with honors from HBCU Benedict College in South Carolina. Artist Dontay Lockett is a 2016 winner and Columbia College Chicago graduate.  

Also serving on the committee are retired UIC English professor Mary Beth Rose and Patricia Rivera, founding donor of the scholarship. Patricia is now retired, but previously served as director of the CPS homeless education program, as well as the founding director of a shelter-based tutoring program, Chicago HOPES for Kids. From our staff, Community Organizer Alyssa Rodriguez and Associate Director of Communications and Marketing Claire Sloss serve on the committee, and Law Project Intake Specialist Christy Savellano manages the program. 

The nine-member committee evaluates each application using a rubric to evaluate the strength of applicants’ short essays, transcripts, and recommendation letters. Twenty-three high school seniors applied by the April 30 deadline. All semifinalists were interviewed by the committee via Zoom in May.  

EDITOR’S NOTE: Originally published on June 30, this article was updated on July 27 to add details and a photo from the event that took place in Maggie Daley Park.